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Meow! What Your Cat Is Telling You About Toxic Flame Retardants

cat watching TV

They are chemicals that are hard to avoid – found in everything from TVs to toys to food, and contaminate homes, offices, and dorm rooms. Scientists keep uncovering new evidence that toxic flame retardants aren’t good for our health, even as companies continue to use them. Cats, thyroid cancer, dorm rooms, and toys are just the latest examples that these chemicals threaten our health and shouldn’t be allowed in products in our homes.

Kitty Might Be the New Canary

When it comes to toxic flame retardants, cats might turn out to be the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. Veterinarians are suspicious that toxic flame retardants are to blame for dramatic increases in hyperthyroidism in cats.

Similar to kids, cats are lower to the ground where they lay in and breathe chemicals in dust, and exposures are greater because of their small size. If toxic flame retardants are harming feline health, what could these chemicals be doing to us? That’s a question that should give us “paws.”

Could Flame Retardants in Your TV Increase Your Risk for Thyroid Cancer?

Rates of thyroid cancer have tripled over the last three decades in the US and scientists may have uncovered one reason why – exposure to toxic flame retardants in our homes.

Last month, Duke University researchers reported new data showing that people with thyroid cancer had “significantly higher” levels of certain toxic flame retardants in house dust in their homes than people without thyroid cancer. Previous studies show these endocrine disrupting flame retardant chemicals don’t stay in products, but instead escape into the air and house dust where the chemicals are ingested or inhaled.

One likely source of the chemicals is electronics like TVs. Flame retardants are widely used in electronics, making them one of the highest-use product category for flame retardants. And, although some flame retardants (PBDEs) were largely phased out of electronics, researchers still found the chemicals in dust, further proof that once these chemicals are in our homes, they hang around and affect our health for a long time.

Dorm Living Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Leaving home for college doesn’t mean students leave contaminated dust behind. High levels of toxic flame retardants were recently found in college dorm room dust. College students spend a lot of time in dorm rooms, raising concerns about exposure levels. The study found unusually high levels of a number of flame retardants, including the highest indoor levels ever reported of some.

Hiding in Plastic Toys

Even if you don’t’ have a lot of electronics with toxic flame retardants, the chemicals have other ways of infiltrating your house. One way experts believe flame retardant chemicals are circling back into homes is in recycled plastic toys. These toys are made with recycled plastic from TVs and other electronics that likely contained toxic flame retardants.

Toxic flame retardants in kids’ products raise concerns because kids are more sensitive to chemical exposures. Using recycled materials is a laudable goal, but not if it means recycling harmful chemicals back into our homes and environment.

We Know Enough to Act

The evidence keeps building that toxic flame retardants shouldn’t be in our homes. But scientific studies alone won’t protect our health.

Eliminating these chemicals from our lives requires responsible companies and strong action by policymakers. Specifically,

  • Retailers must adopt policies to ensure only the safest products are on their shelves.
  • Manufacturers must switch to safer chemicals and materials.
  • Policymakers need to work quickly to ban these chemicals and require safer alternatives.

With these actions we can prevent further harm to our health and our environment.