Why Flame Retardants Are Showing Up in Consumers' Bloodstreams

Manufacturers use flame retardants to treat a variety of products that are sold to the public. The purpose of these chemicals is to reduce the chances of a potentially dangerous fire and protect consumers from harm. Most people don't worry much about how these chemicals affect their daily lives, as they assume that the chemicals remain on the products themselves. However, recent studies have shown that these flame-retardant chemicals are finding their way from treated products into the bloodstreams of consumers.

About Flame Retardants

Manufacturers add flame retardants to their products to make them safer and less likely to be involved in fires. When fires do occur, these chemicals make the product slower to ignite so that people have more time to fight the fire and/or escape the building. In addition, regulations often require manufacturers to add these chemicals to their products for consumer safety.

Some of the most common chemicals used as flame retardants include chlorine, nitrogen, phosphorus and bromine. In some cases, inorganic compounds may also be used.

Studies on Flame Retardants

According to Consumer Reports, Duke University recently conducted a study designed to determine whether two specific organophosphates are passing into the bodies of consumers. This study tested a total of 857 people, including both adults and children. The researchers found that nearly all of the subjects had traces of the flame retardants in their urine. The concentration of these substances rose in samples collected from 2002 to 2015.

With the amount of exposure consumers have to these chemicals, it's no surprise that they would appear in urine and blood samples. Duke University found traces of flame retardants in 85 percent of the couches it tested. When these chemicals are present in furniture, they can migrate into the dust, which is then inhaled by consumers.

Researchers at the Michigan-based Ecology Center have also found traces of flame retardant chemicals in child car seats. During this study, the researchers looked at 15 different types of car seats. None of these seats were free of chemicals, and 11 of them even contained halogenated flame retardants. These chemicals are added to the seats to meet flammability requirements established by the federal government. However, although these chemicals may be required by law, they may also be harmful to the children who ride in these seats.

Dangers of Flame Retardants

Previous research has already shown that exposure to flame retardants can be dangerous, especially when these chemicals are present in high concentrations.

One particular flame retardant is known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDE. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, exposure to these chemicals in utero and after birth may be linked to neurodevelopmental delays, including poorer cognition, fine motor coordination and attention.

Other Harmful Chemicals

Flame retardants aren't the only chemicals that may be found in consumer products. Other chemicals that may be harmful to consumers include lead, asbestos and pesticides. While regulations are now in place to significantly limit consumers' exposure to lead and asbestos, pesticides are still commonplace.

How Consumers Can Stay Safe

It may be impossible to avoid all contact with flame retardants and other harmful chemicals. However, consumers can take certain steps to keep themselves safe. To reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals, consumers should:

  • Check the tags on products. - Before purchasing a new piece of furniture or another item likely to be treated with flame retardants, consumers should read the tags on the product to see what kinds of chemicals were used.
  • Reduce the dust in your home. - Some of the chemicals used for flame retardant purposes make their way into the dust in your home. Reducing the amount of dust in the air and on surfaces can reduce exposure to these harsh chemicals. You can limit the dust by changing air filters regularly, vacuuming dust off the floor and removing it from tables, furniture and other items in the home.
  • Look for symptoms of toxicity. - If anyone in your home exhibits any symptoms that you believe may be related to exposure to harmful chemicals, report the symptoms to your doctor.

David Mann is a personal injury attorney and owner of the Mann Law Firm. He represents clients throughout Georgia.