Update: Up to Our (Floppy) Ears in Flame Retardants?by Bill Chameides | May 6th, 2011
posted by Wendy Graber (Researcher)
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You may be unaware of just how much we share with dogs, especially when it comes to persistent pollutants.
More than 80,000 chemicals are produced and used in United States. This is one of their stories.
Friends don’t let friends ingest (or for that matter, inhale) flame retardants, right? Wrong.
Why We Live With Them
Flame retardants (often polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs) are pretty ubiquitous in the marketplace these days. You’ll find them added to textiles, electronics, and furniture. And they serve a very useful purpose. Fires are a serious health problem in the U.S. According to the CDC, on average, an American dies in a fire every about once every 3 hours and 85% of those deaths occur in household fires. Flame retardants added to household products and fabrics protect us from being a part of those statistics. And that’s a good thing.
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Why We Would Prefer Not To
But there is a flip side to the wonders of the flame retardant story. Sure flame retardants may save lives, but they may also be taking lives. Once they get into our bodies they can do some pretty significant mischief: these include impaired liver, neurological, reproductive and thyroid functions, and they’ve been linked to depressed fertility in women and lower IQ and developmental test scores in children.
And get into our bodies they do. PDBEs are some of the most persistent pollutants in our environment, especially our homes. Flame retardants added to furniture, electronics, and textiles can be dislodged from those items and find their way into the dust particles floating around our homes and then into our lungs as we innocently inhale that dust. Those same flame-retardant-laced dust particles can accumulate on our carpets and floors and be ingested by crawling toddlers who love to pick up stuff and put it into their mouths. And let’s not forget it’s in our food too.
Is this a problem? Well, studies show significant concentrations of PDBEs in the bloodstreams of Americans – adults and children. And the EPA and the chemical industry is sufficiently concerned that the race is on to find alternative flame retardants, that may or may not safer.
Dogs and Cats In the Act
Now new studies suggest that PDBE exposure in the household is not just a human problem. The stuff is finding its way into our best friends – our dogs. That’s right, in a paper published last week in Environmental Science and Technology, Marta Venier and Ronald Hites, from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, report that not only did brominated flame retardants show up in the blood streams of 18 dogs they tested, but that the concentrations were 5 – 10 times higher than that found in the average American. Why? It could be that they just spend more time laying around on carpet and cozy foam beds while chewing on toys and stuff from the floor, or it could be the PDBE-contaminated foods we feed our furry friends.
It’s appalling, I agree. This is clearly no way to treat man’s best friend. But there is a bright side if you are a canine. It turns out that an earlier 2007 study by Janice Dye of the EPA and colleagues (including the authors of the current study) found that the concentrations of brominated flame retardants in 23 test cats were 20 – 100 times larger than the average American’s; even larger than the levels in dogs.
Reading the Flame Retardant Tea Leaves
There is, as you know, an on-going debate among Americans between dog-people and cat-people about which is a better companion. Who do we love more? I guess one could interpret these data to mean that the dogs win out. But perhaps a more accurate take is that both dogs and cats lose on this one.filed under: chemicals, faculty
and: cats, Chemical Marketplace, chemical pollution, consumer products, consumers, dogs, fire retardants, flame retardant, PBDEs, pets