Seattle, WA –A new generation of flame retardants used as replacement chemicals to now-banned compounds are present in air at much higher concentrations than the chemicals they are replacing, according to a new peer-reviewed study appearing in the journal Chemosphere. Researchers say these new findings show inhalation to be a more significant route of exposure for new flame retardants and raise concerns about these replacements now found in everything from couches to children’s products. The study is available online.

The study measured the presence of toxic flame retardants in the air breathed by ten Washingtonians. The study found that every participant was breathing harmful flame retardants.  Chlorinated Tris flame retardants, which have replaced the now banned PBDE flame retardants in many consumer products, were found at particularly high levels.

The study compared exposure from breathing this level of chlorinated Tris flame retardants in air with the amount of exposure expected from another main exposure route, ingestion of household dust. Researchers found that the exposure from air to Tris compounds was up to 30 times more important than ingestion, another main route of exposure.

“Our study shows that several flame retardant compounds now used as replacements for banned flame retardants are present in the air we breathe at high levels,” said Erika Schreder, one of the study’s authors and the science director for the Washington Toxics Coalition. “These cancer-causing chemicals in consumer products in our homes are not staying in the products, but instead ending up in the air we breathe.”

Specifically, the study found:

  • Toxic flame retardants were detected in every air sample tested.
  • Cancer-causing chlorinated Tris flame retardants were found in the highest concentration. Chlorinated Tris is a flame retardant which came into greater use when neurotoxic PBDE flame retardants were phased out.

Increasing evidence that these flame retardants are harmful to health and unnecessary for fire safety, combined with companies opting to stop using the chemicals in their products, has renewed calls for eliminating the chemicals in homes.

“This new study shows that it’s not enough for the legislature to ban toxic flame retardants one at a time because often the replacements chemicals companies use are just as harmful,” said Laurie Valeriano, executive director with the Washington Toxics Coalition. “To better protect the health of children and firefighters, we have to make sure the Department of Health has the authority to prevent other harmful flame retardants from taking the place of banned ones.”

Legislation to ban certain toxic flame retardants in home furniture and children’s products and make sure other harmful chemicals can’t take their place has been introduced in the Washington State Legislature. The Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act (HB 2545 and SB 6440) is sponsored by Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) and Rep. David Taylor (R-Moxee), and Sen. Linda Parlette (R-Wenatchee) and Sen. Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver). In addition to banning five flame retardants listed on the state’s Chemicals of High Concern To Children’ List, the bill also would establish a process for the Department of Health to address additional toxic flame retardants that could replace the banned ones.

Last year, similar legislation passed the Washington State House of Representatives twice with a bipartisan vote of 95-3 and 92-3.

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