Editor’s Note: This post was written by Erika Schreder, Science Director, and Mike Schade, Mind the Store Campaign Director

IN BRIEF:

  • Televisions contain toxic flame retardants, which can make their way into our bodies.
  • A new peer-reviewed study has fingered a flame retardant used in TVs as a significant source of the high levels of a hormone disruptor linked to reproductive harm and other health effects in our bodies.
  • Our own testing uncovered the prevalent use of this flame retardant at high concentrations in TVs sold at Best Buy and Amazon.
  • The European Union already banned toxic flame retardants in electronics casings. States including New York and Washington are considering bans on these flame retardants in the casings of TVs and other electronics.
  • The new study underscores the need for retailers, states, and the federal government to ban toxic flame retardants in electronics.

It’s world television day!

At Toxic-Free Future, we’re always thinking about televisions and the impacts of the chemicals they contain. But some new information has really caught our attention: a brand-new peer-reviewed study found that a toxic flame retardant commonly used in televisions can be a significant source of the high levels of the endocrine disrupting chemical 2,4,6-tribromophenol (2,4,6-TBP) in our bodies. By testing television casings in 2017 and 2019, we uncovered the prevalent use of this flame retardant, known as TTBP-TAZ, in televisions at levels as high as 12% by weight of the plastic.

Scientists have become increasingly concerned about exposures to 2,4,6-TBP, which is a strong endocrine disruptor that has been linked to impairment of reproduction, effects on development, and thyroid disruption. Recently, studies found unexpectedly high levels of 2,4,6-TBP in people including in blood and placenta, much higher than levels of flame retardants such as PBDEs that are well known to build up in people.

Now, researchers at Indiana University have investigated the possibility that the television flame retardant TTBP-TAZ is a key source of this exposure. Scientists in the laboratories of Dr. Amina Salamova and Dr. James Klaunig found that human liver cells rapidly transform TTBP-TAZ into the hormone-disrupting 2,4,6-TBP. When they exposed rats to TTBP-TAZ, they found buildup of 2,4,6-TBP and indications the exposure disrupted thyroid hormone regulation and lipid metabolism and may promote tumor development.

Shockingly, despite the heavy use of TTBP-TAZ, to the authors’ knowledge, no other published study has evaluated its toxicity.

In the new paper, the scientists warn that:

Multiple studies have reported 2,4,6-TBP as an abundant brominated compound in various human tissues, including blood, adipose, and placenta, detected at levels 10–100 times exceeding those of the ubiquitous polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) measured in the same samples (Butt et al., 2016, Gao et al., 2015, Leonetti et al., 2016a, Leonetti et al., 2016b). Humans can be exposed to 2,4,6-TBP via various direct sources, such as dust ingestion, inhalation, dietary intake, and dermal contact.

Action needed on toxic flame retardants

Over the last few years, our Mind the Store campaign has been calling on major retailers like Best Buy and Amazon to cut toxic flame retardants from their products. Scientific studies link exposures to organohalogen flame retardant (OFR) chemicals to a number of negative health impacts, including thyroid disruption, cancer, and learning deficits. Now more than ever, this is concerning given that preventing chronic illnesses is critical as we face new challenges with diseases like COVID-19.

In our recent report, Toxic TV Binge, we uncovered TTBP-TAZ in the plastic components of six state-of-the-art TVs under the Toshiba and Insignia brands developed in partnership with Best Buy and Amazon. All six TVs contained the chemical. The European Union recently banned all organohalogen flame retardants (OFRs) in electronics displays, including TVs. And similar legislation is awaiting the signature of NY Governor Kathy Hochul. Just this week, the Washington state Department of Ecology issued a report to the legislature recommending a statewide ban on OFRs in electronic casings, under the state’s Safer Products for Washington law.

This new paper highlights the importance of restrictions on organohalogen and other toxic flame retardants broadly—here, we see how companies substituted an untested organohalogen flame retardant for ones shown to be bioaccumulative and harmful. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, we now have information indicating the substitute, TTBP-TAZ, is also bioaccumulative and toxic.

Clearly, further action on toxic flame retardants in the marketplace and at the state and federal level is urgently needed to prevent more exposure to these harmful chemicals and protect health.