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Scientists’ Statement Raises Flame Retardant Concerns

Flames (ORNL)

(Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

A statement signed by nearly 150 scientists from 22 countries raises concerns about use of brominated and chlorinated flame retardant chemicals (BFRs and CFRs, respectively), a major class of chemicals often found in upholstered furniture, foam carpet pads, textiles, televisions, and other consumer electronics, airplanes, and automobiles. These chemicals also were used in mattresses produced before July 2007.

Both the statement and an accompanying editorial in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives cite evidence that these flame retardants are accumulating in humans and the environment, and that some may harm unborn children, affect people’s hormones, and play a role in causing cancer. The statement and editorial were published online October 28 ahead of the journal’s print version.

The statement — called the San Antonio statement where scientists attended a convention on a related topic in September 2010 — called for identification of alternatives to BFRs and CFRs, but also “changes in the design of products, industrial processes, and other practices that do not require the use of any flame retardant.”

In addition to concerns about the use of products with BFRs and CFRs, the signers also highlighted the continuing presence of the chemicals in industrial wastes. The statement with products with BFRs and CFRs having “persistent organic pollutant (POP) characteristics … should be disposed of in such a way that the POP content is destroyed or irreversibly transformed so that they do not exhibit the characteristics of POPs.” Flame retardant wastes, the statement urges, should not be disposed of in ways that can lead to “recovery, recycling, reclamation, direct reuse, or alternative uses of the substances.”

Both the statement and the editorial note that the industry has a track record of substituting one kind of BFR/CFR for another, rather than banning he chemicals altogether. The editorial goes on to ask if some of the products where flame retardants are applied even need them. “For example,” asks the editorial, “do nursing pillows and baby strollers need flame retardants?”

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