Researchers found high levels of flame retardant chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in California children, whom they think were probably exposed through household dust and food.
This week, a new study caught my eye: Researchers found high levels of flame retardant chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in California children, whom they think were probably exposed through household dust and food. Not a surprise, really: The toxic chemicals—widely used over the past three decades in furniture foam, clothing, upholstery, and electronics—are so pervasive that they also cropped up in very high levels in a random sampling of brand-name butters done late last year. (Researchers fingered contaminated wrapping papers as the source.)
So what? In fact, two of the worst-offending PBDEs are off the market and a third is being phased out. Therefore new products you buy generally don’t contain them, says Sonya Lunder, MPH, senior analyst at the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.
But there are two big “buts.” The first is the issue of older stuff (made before 2006) you already have in your home (for tips on reducing your exposure to PBDEs, go here) and that’s disintegrating in dumps and landfills—creating dust that can contaminate directly, and enter the food supply through soil, water and air.
The second is other flame retardant chemicals now being used as replacements for PBDEs. “We suspect that some of these chlorine- and bromine-based chemicals are also going to be toxic, persistent, and have negative effects in the environment,” says Lunder. “At the very least, it’s a sign that industry isn’t shifting to the best, least toxic alternatives.”
As a parent of two young kids, I want to know why we can’t do better for our planet and our increasingly toxic homes and environment. Our idea of food safety needs to include chemical contamination, and toxins like endocrine-disrupting BPA that makes its way into food via can liners and other packaging.
Consumers, moms, dads, make your voices heard: Support organic agriculture; find out what they're spraying on harmless dandelions at the parks your where your kids play (and insist on more sustainable solutions); buy from companies that make PBDE-free products. Our national reliance on these kinds of toxins don't offer us the kind of "protection" our world is going to need.