Chemical flame retardants have made their way into a long list of household objects. This was intended to help save lives, which it has, but a string of studies published over the past few decades have shown flame retardants may not be without health risks.
There has been growing concern about the long term side-effects of Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. PBDEs are families of chemicals that have been a popular flame retardant since the late 1970s. They are found in a number of consumer products like computers, home theater components, clothing, and even mattress stuffing.
When a PC or home stereo heats up, the plastic casing can release a small amount of PBDE into the air. Like most toxins, exposure to PDBEs doesn't normally trigger an acute response from the body, but can have serious cumulative effect. As concentrations build up in the body, there is increased risk of permanent nervous and reproductive system damage.
Household PBDE exposure is especially troubling because its potential to cause neurological damage is most pronounced in small children. Foam stuffing often contains PBDE flame-retardants. Otherwise benign items such as a child's bedding or stuffed playthings can be sources of toxic flame-retardants. Remember – exposure is cumulative. Some studies have also shown that excessive PCBE levels can contaminate breast milk in nursing mothers. Yikes!
How To Reduce Exposure to Toxic Flame Retardants
Do you your homework. If you buy something that plugs in, or has foam stuffing, check with the manufacturer to see what type of flame retardant they use.
Keep an eye out for rips or tears in furniture and children's toys. PDBEs are able to escape into the environment easily through even the smallest openings. Replace worn out furniture rather than recovering it. If the item is important, like a family heirloom, have the stuffing replaced with non toxic material.
Switch to "smart" power supplies/surge protectors for your home electronics. These save considerable money over time and reduce the amount of heat (and toxins) your components generate when they are not in use.
These tips can help you reduce your exposure to PBDE and toxic flame retardants, though it is nearly impossible for the average person to completely remove these chemicals from their environment. As a preventative measure, I also recommend installing air purification systems for your home and regular body cleansing and maintenance to ensure that toxins do not accumulate to dangerous levels.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.