Skip to main content

A Deep Breath Of Toxic Flame Retardants

Liz ZimmerlyEditor’s Note: This post was written by Liz Zimmerly, Seattle mom and participant in our recent study on toxic flame retardants, Something’s In The Air

Breathing. It’s something we do on average between 17,000 and 23,000 times a day. I used to not even think about breathing. But I’ve been thinking about this life necessity a lot lately now I know each breath I take is contaminated with toxic flame retardants from foam items in my home.

I know this because I participated in Washington Toxics Coalition’s most recent study, Something’s In The Air. I agreed to have the air I was breathing tested for toxic flame retardants. So for 24 hours I carried around a whirring personal air monitor. It detected four types of flame retardants in the air I was breathing. These chemicals are linked to cancer and are neurotoxic.

I was shocked when I first heard the results. Then I got mad. If I am breathing these chemicals, then my two young boys are too. I didn’t ask for these chemicals in my house but here they were and in the air I’m breathing. Where did these chemicals come from? How did they get into my house?

A second study provided the answer. I heard about researchers at Duke University who were testing pieces of foam from household items for toxic flame retardants. I cut pieces of foam out of my pillow, sofa, and an oversized chair and had them tested in he study. Three of the same chemicals that were detected in the air were also present in the foam. The worst news was that my beloved pillow, which I lay on eight hours a day, is more than one percent by weight TCPP, a highly persistent chemical that affected reproduction and development in laboratory studies. I was sleeping on a highly toxic chemical.

Flame retardant chemicals tend to come out of products and become part of our household dust, which we breathe and children ingest when they put toys or unwashed fingers in their mouths. It’s likely that the air in my home became polluted by chemicals from these items and other items in my home that contain foam..

I do everything I can to keep my family safe. With my mom recently winning a battle with cancer, a question has been on my mind: what can I do to reduce the chances that my children will get cancer? I try to choose safe products, like non-toxic toys made to stringent European environmental health standards. Yet, as I found out, despite my best efforts, I can’t keep toxic flame retardant chemicals out of my house.

So what to do? I will of course buy a new pillow, but it just isn’t in my family’s budget to replace our furniture. Making informed consumer choices is a good first line of defense, but it’s not enough to protect my family or yours.

I bet I’m like most people who believe that there is someone in charge of making sure we’re not being poisoned in our homes. But the more I learn, the angrier I get. Something has to change. I want someone in charge of making sure chemicals in products are safe. I want unbiased experts evaluating chemicals for safety and taking action on chemicals that turn out to be unsafe. That’s why I support the Toxic-Free Kids and Family Act.

But time is running out to get something passed in 2015. Please join me and ask our State Senators to pass a strong bill to address toxic flame retardants. Take action today.

[UPDATE: The Washington State Legislature passed the Toxic-Free Kids and Family Act in 2016. As of July 1, 2017, home furniture and kids’ products must be free of certain flame retardants. Read more.]