A U.S. agency has warned the public about the dangers of flame retardants known as organohalogens that are found in baby toys, mattresses, furniture and electronics. (Pexels), CC BY-SA
A federal agency in the United States took action last month to ban an entire class of toxic flame retardants from being added to a wide variety of consumer products, from baby toys to televisions. It’s a first for the U.S. — and it could be done in Canada too.
In its review of the science, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found there was “overwhelming” evidence that halogenated flame retardants, also known as organohalogens, present a “serious public health issue.”
As a result, these flame retardants will be prohibited in all children’s products and toys (but not car seats), upholstered residential furniture, mattresses and the plastic casings on electronics.
Notably, and appropriately, the commission also found that “precautionary labelling” would not provide adequate protection against the potential hazards. Instead of merely warning consumers, the commission opted to prohibit the presence of these chemicals in consumer products.
These flame retardants pose serious health risks, particularly to vulnerable populations. They migrate easily out of consumer products, regardless of how they are used, and accumulate in people.
Flame retardants have been linked to hormonal disruption, including lower sperm counts and infertility, neurological impacts, cancer, immune disorders and other health effects. They are known endocrine disruptors that can have significant impacts on health, even at very low doses, especially during fetal development, puberty and pregnancy.
In Canada, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, have been detected in the breast milk of almost all women tested.
These results are worrying given that even though PBDEs have been banned internationally under the Stockholm Convention, they are built into many long-lasting consumer products and furniture in our homes, schools and workplaces. Computers, couches, mattresses and carpets will continue to expose us to PBDEs for years to come.