From melting ice caps to loss of habitat, life isn’t easy in the Arctic. And it’s only getting worse thanks to the widespread presence of toxic chemicals like flame retardants; these toxic chemicals that we put into our furniture are making their way up the food chain and are impacting endangered polar bears. Flame retardants take longer to break down in the extreme cold, which means they will continue to accumulate in the environment affecting the health of wildlife. The presence of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, one of the most common flame retardants, has led to a rise of intersex polar bears and reduced fertility, a problem for a species already struggling to survive.
It’s not just polar bears who are affected either. A recent study from Environmental Working Group and Duke University on the prevalence of flame retardants in mothers and children found that of the children tested, not only did every child have flame retardants in their systems but the chemicals were present at an average five times higher than in their mothers. This prevalence is highly problematic as another study found that children with high concentrations of flame retardants in the umbilical cord at birth scored lower on mental and physical development tests compared to children with lower concentrations.
Many U.S. states are taking action in the face of this growing evidence. California, for instance, will no longer require the mandatory presence of flame retardants in furniture and will require any furniture containing flame retardants to have it listed on the product label. Chemtura, a company that makes flame retardants, filed an appeal against this law but lost the case in early September.
In New York, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer recently introduced a bill banning ten different flame retardants in upholstered furniture and children’s toys across the country. The bill, if passed, will require the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to not only ban the 10 flame retardants but also assess other flame retardants for their safety.
What many people don’t know is that flame retardants not only don’t work all that well in preventing fires but they can also make fires more toxic by forming deadly gases. Many flame retardants are known endocrine disruptors and carcinogens that bio-accumulate in blood, breast milk, and fatty tissues.
Here in Canada, navigating the regulations regarding flame retardants can be tricky and confusing. While some retailers are shifting away from using flame retardants, it can often be expensive and difficult to obtain, a fact that is fundamentally frustrating and reduces adoption of less harmful products.
Canadians have the right to know what chemicals they and their families are being exposed to, and a right to easily access information about which products are safer. It shouldn’t be difficult to obtain information about what is inside your furniture. All families, low-income or wealthy, should feel confident that their homes are safe from toxic chemicals.
While action is being taken in US jurisdictions, several flame retardants are being reviewed under Canada’s Chemicals Management Plan. Swift progress is needed to deal with this threat to human health and the environment, and while reviews can take a long time, consumers are left wondering what chemicals are in their furniture. The best step to take would be to ban harmful substances, but labelling materials to indicate what chemicals have been added would also help by giving consumers access to information they needed to make healthier choices.
Take action! Sign our petition asking the government to enact stricter regulations of toxic chemicals.
For information on how to keep your home safe from toxics, check out our toxic-free alternatives.