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Toxic Chemicals

  • InNon-toxic Home, Toxic Chemicals

    Is Walmart’s Ban on Brominated (PBDE) Flame Retardants Just a PR Stunt?

    Flame Retardants in FoamThere are a lot of opinions out there about whether Wal-mart's decision earlier this year to impose their own ban on polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) found in couches, computers and baby strollers was the right one.  They basically circumvented the US regulatory system to impose what many refer to as “retailer regulation.”

    But aren't PBDEs already banned, you ask?  As I Am Not a Guinea Pig explains, the use of halogenated flame retardants, a broad family of compounds that includes PBDEs, has increased over the past several decades. As some are banned or restricted, others are introduced. They remain common in many consumer products from electronics, to furniture, to carpet padding, to clothing and children’s products.

    Is it just a PR move, a stunt to garner attention?

    Yes.  I'm sure it is.  But we've been doing the same thing in our retail store for five years now.  In fact, our store was created around barring specific chemicals from products in response to concerns from parents and advocacy groups.  Americans are up in arms about the absurd number of untested chemicals in unlabeled products.  If you want to sell stuff, you have to listen to your customers.  This is a great example of a grassroots movement that created a tangible change (BPA, anyone?).  We vote for safer products with our dollars, and you can bet that a savvy – albeit not perfect – company like Wal-mart is listening closely with an ear to the ground.

    Should they be imposing such a restriction when the EPA hasn't even banned these chemicals?  Isn't this something the government should handle?

    Yes, on both counts.  The government should be handling it – BUT, as we've discussed over and over in the case of BPA, we can't expect that to happen anytime soon with our broken system.  It leaves consumers to do the research and insist on safer products while continuing to work for change in the current system.  The Washington Post said it well:

    Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency cited PBDEs as “chemicals of concern” and said it intended to try to limit any new use of them. But that proposal has been stuck in bureaucratic review.  The nation's chemical laws, created 35 years ago, make it extremely difficult for the federal government to ban or restrict a chemical's use. Regulators must prove a chemical poses a clear health risk, but the EPA has sufficient health and safety data for only about 200 of the 84,000 chemicals in commerce in the United States.  The hurdles are so high that the agency has been unable to ban asbestos, widely acknowledged as a likely carcinogen and barred in more than 30 countries.

    Is it really a worthwhile action, or will the PBDE's just be replaced with other toxic chemicals?

    Yes, considering a recent study found that 80% of polyurethane foam found in baby gear tested positive for toxic flame retardants.  It's worthwhile not only because the consumers demand it, but because other manufacturers will have to respond too.  We benefit all the way around when they have to compete for our dollars, our votes.  And even though it's not the complete solution (we all know that there are plenty of other toxic chemicals yet to contend with) it is a step toward our end goal of reducing overall exposure.  We have to start somewhere – making progress where possible – picking out the most obvious offenders and removing them first.

    And yes, there will probably be other toxic substitutions made in some situations, as in the case of Chlorinated Flame Retardants (CFR’s) which have begun to appear in furniture foam and electronics after some restrictions were placed on the use of PBDE's previously.  CFR's are also of concern with links to cancer-causing and endocrine disrupting properties, so they're not the perfect replacement.  Although we must stay knowledgeable about the substitutions being made, we also have to realize that this situation can't be remedied overnight.

    When a retail giant like Wal-mart draws a line in the sand, it spurs all manufacturers to work harder to find safer flame retardants.  And finally, awareness increases too, extending new information to those who didn't even know they should be concerned.

    In the end, I believe it's a win-win.  But that's just my two cents.  What about you?  Have you found safer alternatives? If so, help others save time by sharing your experience!

    >>You can learn more in our Toxic Flame Retardant series.

    Photo credit: Flickr by jamesgh5


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  • InDIY & How-to, Non-toxic Home, Toxic Chemicals

    Top 10 Ways to Bust Toxic Dust Bunnies

    toxic dust bunnies

    A few years ago, I never would have imagined that dust could be such an issue.  I saw it as nothing more than an “unsightly” lack of motivation on my part.  Much to my dismay, house dust now tops the list as one of the most significant sources of childhood exposure to toxic substances.

    Chemicals can literally accumulate in household dust for decades, so beating down those dust bunnies is important, especially for children who can be exposed to chemicals in many different ways.  Babies and young kids are also more susceptible than adults for the following reasons:

    • They're still developing, so exposure to toxic chemicals at key points in the process may result in long-term health damage.
    • They breathe more air than adults do and also commonly mouth-breath, which increases their risk of exposure to chemicals in dust that would normally be filtered out in the nose.
    • Children have a higher heart rate than adults, allowing substances that are absorbed into the blood to permeate tissues faster.
    • Infants have a greater surface area of skin than adults, increasing their potential dermal absorption of certain compounds.

    Top 10 Ways to Bust that Dust

    1. Vacuum regularly.  Use a HEPA filter to reduce concentrations of lead, phthalates and brominated fire-retardant chemicals (PBDEs) and to help keep dust and dirt from being blown back out through the vacuum exhaust.  Don't forget to don't forget to vacuum padded furniture, where flame-retardants accumulate in large amounts.
    2. Mop after vacuuming to grab dust left behind by the vacuum.
    3. Wipe window ledges and chewable surfaces such as desks, tables, and cribs.
    4. Damp-dust electronics to prevent flame retardants from building up in the dust there too.
    5. Wash toys and stuffed animals regularly.
    6. Make sure that little ones practice handwashing before meals and at bedtime.  Simple soap and water will do the job.
    7. Take shoes off before coming inside and use floor mats at every door (a shocking number of chemicals come in on the dirt on our shoes).
    8. Consider having your ducts cleaned.  The EPA recommends having ducts cleaned if they are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris and/or particles are actually released into the home from your supply registers.
    9. Remember that the exposure isn't just at home.  The EPA reports that 50 percent of schools have poor indoor air quality too.  Research shows that a typical classroom has 50 to 300 VOC's present in the air. The primary source of these pollutants is chemical emissions from interior products such as furnishings, building materials, and cleaning supplies.
    10. Choose products made from safer materials to prevent toxic chemicals from leaching out and sloughing off into household dust.  Check for Green Guard certified products for school and home.


  • InToxic Chemicals

    Study Shows Bisphenol-A and Methylparaben Have a Triggering Effect on Cancer

    Breast Cancer Cells

    Research by doctors from California Pacific Medical Center found evidence that BPA and methylparaben (a preservative found in some cosmetics and personal care products) can interfere with the effectiveness of breast-cancer medications.   These drugs normally work by slowing the growth of breast cells (both cancerous and non-cancerous), but when researchers exposed the cells to BPA and methylparaben in the lab after treatment with tamoxifen (a cancer medication), they continued to grow.  Even more surprising, the study suggested that these two chemicals seem to be more effective at driving cancer than naturally occurring estrogen.

    The San Franciso Chronicle quoted Dr. William Goodson, lead author of the study, as saying:

    BPA and methylparaben are hard to avoid because they are used so widely and are even found in household dust. He said he does not know whether the effects of exposure to the chemicals are reversible.  It's used so much. We kind of swim in it.

    As concerned consumers, it's up to us to demand change so that we can successfully decrease our daily exposure to toxic chemicals.  While we push for new legislation, we should also be speaking loudly with our biggest weapon – money.  Insist that manufacturers be honest about what materials are used in their products so you can make an informed decision – otherwise, just don't buy it.

    Take Action

    • Tell your Representative that safe cosmetics are important to you and ask him or her to sign on as a co-sponsor of the Safe Cosmetics Act – contact them now
    • Join the Breast Cancer Fund in asking canned food makers if they'll phase out BPA – contact them now
    • Californians, join EWG in protecting your children in tell Gov. Brown to sign the Toxin-Free Infants and Toddlers Act – contact them now

    Further Reading

    Photo source:  Flickr (Annie Cavanagh)


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