What PBDEs are: Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, some of the world's most commonly used flame retardants, that are extremely similar to PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls, chemicals that were banned in 2001 after decades of environmental disasters and health hazzards that led to the destruction of contaminated cattle, pigs, chickens, human illness and death across the world. Although banned for several years now, traces of PCBs can still be found in humans today because their environmental contamination was so widespread. According to the book, Slow Death By Rubber Duck, PBDEs are sometimes referred to as the new PCBs.
- There are three types of PBDEs, Octa, Deca and Penta.
The health effects:
1.) Thyroid hormone disruption
2.) Animal studies have found PBDEs linked to tumor growth and cancers
3.) Animal studies have also found links between PBDEs and problems with brain development.
4.) According to the EWG, "Scientists have found that exposure to minute doses of toxic fire retardants at critical points in development can damage reproductive systems and cause deficits in motor skills, hearing, learning, memory and behavior."
How to decrease your exposure:
1.) Children's Pajamas: although they aren't clearly labeled either way before the age of 12 months, you're more likely to get pajamas without PBDEs if you stick with 100% cotton for babies. Over the age of 12 months, I only purchase pajamas with the yellow warning label pictured above, which states the garment is NOT flame resistant and must be worn tight-fitting. Although almost all synthetic sleepware is treated with flame retardants, (this includes all those fleece pajamas that are commonly available in winter), several cotton pajamas are as well, especially in bigger sizes. If you're making pajamas from fabric purchased at a fabric store, you will find that most of the material intended for pajamas there have also been treated with a flame retardant.
2.) I look for mattresses that are are naturally flame retardant because of their composition. For cribs and toddler mattresses, Naturepedic is a wonderful company. They do not use any chemical flame retardants, their mattresses are stuffed with cotton, and if they have a waterproof barrier they are PFOA free as well, (see the bottom of the post for my previous article on decreasing your family's exposure to PFOAs). Naturepedic also makes mattresses in larger sizes like twin, full, etc. It is a pricey mattress but if your child is spending most of their night sleeping on a crib mattress or toddler mattress or a twin mattress, it might be worth it to some people to consider investing in one. The best deal I could find on a Naturepedic crib/toddler bed mattress was at Buy Buy Baby, when you use their 20% off coupon. Unlike Babies R Us, Buy Buy Baby has the mattress in store so you don't have to pay shipping if you have a store nearby and can pick it up in person.
- Naturepedic recently started a lower-cost line of mattresses called Lullaby Earth. Made of food-grade polyethylene foam (not vinyl/polyurethane or PVC), instead of cotton, these mattresses are free of harmful flame retardants and PFOAs.
- In Australia and New Zealand, many parents practice mattress-wrapping, after a researcher hypothesized that there was a correlation between SIDS and babies breathing in toxins from flame retardants and other chemicals in their mattresses. You can read more about that here and here.
3.) For adult mattresses, if Naturepedic isn't your thing, you can purchase new mattresses made by Simmons, Ikea, Sealy, and others which claim to not have the most harmful flame retardants in them, although they do not reveal what they use instead as a flame retardant. Unfortunately, very few mattress store employees are aware of the chemical composition of the mattresses they sell, and most have never heard of PBDEs so your safest bet is to do your research before heading out to purchase a new mattress. Newer furniture is more likely to be PBDE-free so if you need an excuse to replace decades-old mattresses lying around your house, here it is.
4.) Vacuum and Dust your house often. PBDEs aren't chemically bound to the products they are in and easily breakdown into household dust and pollute the environment. With children and pets spending so much time on the floor, frequent cleaning is an easy way to decrease their exposure. Vacuums with HEPA filters can be more helpful in reducing PBDE dust.
5.) Seal upholstery tears.
6.) Electronics: according to Slow Death By Rubber Duck, Sony, Philips, Panasonic and Samsung are all PBDE free, while Apple is reducing PBDEs in their computers.
Check with companies if you're unsure. Snoogle, makers of my favorite pregnancy pillow, state they do not use PBDEs in their production, and you can find other makers of sleep products and electronics that avoid flame retardants as well.
1.) Information on Flammability Regulation from the Chicago Tribune.
2.) Mother Jones on Chemical Mattresses
3.) Information on Deca-BDEs
4.) The New York Times on Less Toxic Mattresses
5.) A Mattress Buying Guide
6.) Toxipedia on PBDEs
7.) The EWG's Guide to Reducing your PBDE Exposure
8.) Information from the LA Times on how the California requirement has led to high levels of PBDE in Californians
9.) The Chicago Tribune's Watchdog Investigation Series on Flame Retardants
10.) The EWG on Children and Toxins
11.) And of course, Slow Death By Rubber Duck, an invaluable resource in decreasing toxins in your life.
Previous Wading Through Soup Posts on Decreasing Your Family's Exposure to Toxins:
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