1) Be aware of high levels of PBDEs already in your child’s blood. See Below
2) Remove household PBDEs: Use alternatives to the increasing use of PBDEs in water and stain repellents in furniture, clothes, and other products. See Below
High levels of PBDEs in your children and their potential effects
Newborn baby blood and PBDEs: Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) were detected in all the newborns, with an average concentration of 6,420 ppt. PBDEs are used as a flame retardant and anti-stain “protection” for furniture and some clothin, and it is also used in computers, television sets and other household items. (From the 2004 study, conducted by the Environmental Working Group, provided a glimpse of the hazardous chemicals fetuses might be exposed to while in the womb.)
Children’s developing brains and reproductive systems are extraordinarily vulnerable to toxic chemicals. In the case of PBDEs, laboratory tests in peer-reviewed studies have found that a dose administered to mice on a single day when the brain is growing rapidly can cause permanent changes to behavior, including hyperactivity.
Children’s bodies may not metabolize and excrete toxic chemicals as readily as adults.
Studies show that children in the United States, Norway, Australia, and the Faroe Islands have higher levels of PBDEs than adults. (See Appendix B) In the United States, children’s blood concentrations average 62 parts per billion (ppb) and range from 24 to 114 ppb. Published studies express concern because exposure to PBDEs impairs development of nervous system. PDBEs has also been shown to have hormone disrupting effects, particularly on estrogen and thyroid hormones. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) noted that PBDEs are particularly toxic to the developing brains of animals. (“Developmental exposure to low-dose PBDE-99: effects on male fertility and neurobehavior in rat offspring” Environmental Health Perspectives 2005 volume 113, pp. 149–154.)
Found in blood samples from 10 of 10 Washingtonians in the Pollution in People study
PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are industrial toxic chemicals, used for more than 30 years, to retard flame in consumer electronic plastics, furniture, and mattresses.
There are three common mixtures of these chemicals—penta, octa, and deca.
- Penta and octa are no longer produced in the U.S., but millions of pounds remain in homes, offices, and the environment due to extensive use in consumer products.
- Deca is still used widely, with about 50 million pounds a year in the U.S. used primarily in television casings. Deca demand is expected to grow because it is now approved for use to meet new federal fire safety standards for residential furniture and mattresses.
- Deca has been shown to break down into penta and octa.
How am I exposed?
A number of studies have found PBDEs in house dust as well as indoor air, which is considerably more contaminated with these chemicals than outdoor air. It is likely that PBDEs migrate out of products like furniture and electronics and wind up in house dust. Studies in the U.S., Europe, and Asia have found PBDEs in fish, meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and infant formula.
Why should I be concerned?
- PBDES are in blood, breast milk, and umbilical cord blood.
- Laboratory animals exposed to PBDEs show deficits in learning and memory.
- PBDEs affect thryroid levels in laboratory animals and in wildlife, and may cause birth defects.
What can government and industry do?
Eight U.S. states have passed legislation to ban Penta and Octa PBDEs, and several states have passed laws to study Deca. In Washington, the Departments of Ecology and Health have called for a phaseout of all forms of PBDEs.
- The WashingtonState legislature should adopt legislation to phase out all forms of PBDEs. They failed to pass a bill in 2005 and 2006, which would have begun to accomplish this.
- State and local governments, and other large purchasers of products should buy PBDE-free products and require, as part of contracts, disclosure of chemical flame retardants in products.
- Companies should replace PBDEs with safer alternatives that include design changes, better material choices, or chemical flame retardants that are not persistent toxic chemicals.
- Companies should also disclose chemical flame retardant information for products.
Reducing your exposure to PBDEs
You can take the following steps to reduce your family’s exposure to PBDEs:
Buy PBDE-free furniture. Choose furniture that does not contain PBDEs, which are often used in furniture upholstery and foam. IKEA does not use PBDEs in its products, and Serta states that their mattresses produced after 2005 do not contain PBDEs. Other retailers offering PBDE-free products include:
Soaring Heart (mattresses and futons)
For more information on companies offering PBDE-free products, see:
If you cannot find information on whether a manufacturer uses PBDEs, contact the company directly.
If you already own furniture that contains PBDEs, cover and seal any rips in upholstery, and consider replacing old items where foam is exposed, loose, and crumbling. Cover mattresses with allergen-barrier casings to reduce the amount of PBDE-laden dust that they release.
Make electronics PBDE-free. Choose electronics made with alternatives to PBDEs, available from Canon, Dell, HP, Intel, Erickson, Apple, and Sony.
Avoid farmed fish. European and U.S. farmed salmon have particularly high levels of PBDEs. Choose wild salmon instead.
Reduce animal fats. Choose lean meat and poultry cuts and low-fat dairy products. Cut visible fat off meat and poultry before cooking, and choose lower-fat cooking methods, such as broiling, grilling, roasting, or pressure-cooking.
PCDE Levels Three Times Higher in Toddlers Than Moms
By Sonya Lunder, MPH and Dr. Anila Jacob, MPH, MD, EWG Senior Scientists, September 2008
In the first investigation of toxic fire retardants in parents and their children, Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that toddlers and preschoolers typically had 3 times as much of these hormone-disrupting chemicals in their blood as their mothers.
The 20 children we tested had an average of 3.2 times more fire retardants polluting their blood than their mothers.
Laboratory tests – conducted for EWG by one of the world’s leading scientific authorities on fire retardants – found that in 19 of 20 U.S. families, concentrations of the chemicals known as PBDEs were significantly higher in 1.5- to 4-year-old children than their mothers. In total 11 different flame retardants were found in these children, and 86 percent of the time the chemicals were present at higher levels in the children than their mothers.
The tests also found a form of PBDEs known as Deca, a heavily used flame retardant that has largely escaped restrictions because few labs can reliably test for it. The tests showed Deca more often and in higher concentrations on average in children than their mothers. These high exposures early in life point to a previously undocumented, serious, and disproportionate risk to young children.
Eight of the 20 mothers we tested were also part of earlier EWG studies that found high levels of PBDEs in human breast milk and household dust. EWG tests of umbilical cord blood also found PBDEs in 10 of 10 newborns. The current study is the first to show that U.S. children have much higher levels of PBDEs in their blood than their parents and in fact bear some of the heaviest burdens of flame retardant pollution in the industrialized world.
PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are global pollutants that build up in the blood and tissues of people and other living things. Two forms of PBDEs known as Penta and Octa are no longer made in the U.S. because of health and safety concerns, but are still found in furniture and foam items made before the phase-out was complete. The largest volume of PBDEs are used in electronics in a form known as Deca. Deca is banned in European electronics and in some U.S. states. The chemical industry is waging a high-stakes effort to keep Deca on the market, claiming it poses no health risk. But EWG’s tests show that Deca enters people’s bodies, and is polluting children’s blood at much higher levels than adults’. Deca was detected in 65 percent of children and 45 percent of adults.
Appendix B: Alternatives to the increasing use of PBDEs in water and stain repellents in furniture, clothes, and other products.
Less-Toxic Clothing: Avoid clothing that is marketed as stain-resistant and moisture-resistant: It is likely that it contains a chemical that can be absorbed into your body.
Less-Toxic Furniture: Mattresses, couches, and padded chairs
- Avoid furniture that is marketed as stain-resistant, and do not apply stain-resistant treatments onto fabrics.
- Avoid products that contain PVC, such as inflatable furniture, artificial leather, PVC-coated fabrics, and vinyl furniture covers.
- Choose products that do not contain toxic flame retardants (PBDEs), which are often used in furniture upholstery and foam.
IKEA does not use PBDEs, and Serta states that their mattresses produced after 2005 do not contain PBDEs.
Major electronics manufacturers including Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and Samsung no longer use Deca and are phasing out other bromine-based fire retardants.
If you cannot find information on whether a manufacturer uses PBDEs, contact them directly.
Also, if you already own furniture that contains PBDEs, cover and seal any rips in upholstery, and consider replacing old items where foam is exposed, loose, and crumbling. Cover mattresses with PVC-free allergen-barrier casings to reduce the amount of PBDE-laden dust that they release.
Solid furniture such as tables, shelving, and dressers
The best options for solid furniture are solid wood, metal, and glass. If possible, avoid products made of manufactured wood products such as particleboard, fiberboard, and plywood, especially if they contain urea-formaldehyde glues. IKEA uses less-toxic glues in their products, and some manufactured wood products containing less-toxic glues are available if you would like to build your own furniture.
PBDEs are in everyday items like furniture, computers, televisions and other electronics migrate into the home environment and could expose children to concentrations exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended safe level. Children ingest more PBDEs than adults because they stick to kids’ hands, toys or other objects they put in their mouths.
Even as the chemical industry insists Deca is safe, manufacturers are moving away from the use of all chemical fire retardants and have found they can achieve fire safety through smarter product design. Major electronics manufacturers including Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and Samsung no longer use Deca and are phasing out other bromine-based fire retardants.
Despite the evidence that PBDEs are harmful, that they pollute people’s blood, and that safer alternatives are available, the EPA has done little to address children’s ongoing exposure. Deca remains widely used, and a regulatory loophole allows Penta, one of the PBDEs banned earlier, to enter the U.S. in imported furniture. Until Deca is banned in all consumer products, Penta is banned from imports, and fire safety regulations are revised to promote non-chemical solutions, American families – and especially their children – will continue to be needlessly exposed to these harmful compounds.
B. Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs): are a family of fluorine-containing chemicals with unique properties to make materials stain and stick resistant. PFCs are incredibly resistant to breakdown and are turning up in unexpected places around the world. Although these chemicals have been used since the 1950s in countless familiar products, they’ve been subjected to little government testing.
Found in blood samples from ALL 10 of 10 Washingtonians in the Pollution in People study
Found in the umbilical cord blood of ALL 10 newborns, in the 2004 EWG study
Greenpeace is calling into question the sustainability credentials of leading outdoor-apparel brands like The North Face, Patagonia, and Mammut after an investigation confirmed the continued and widespread use of hazardous per- and polyfluorinated chemicals in their products. In its latest report, released today at Europe’s biggest outdoor trade show, the environmental nonprofit affirmed the presence of PFCs not only in clothing and footwear but also camping and hiking equipment such as backpacks, sleeping bags, and tents. The study arrives in the wake of recent revelations that PFCs contaminate some of the world’s most far-flung regions, from Lago di Pilato in the Apennines of central Italy to the Haba Snow Mountains in China.
1) Limit use of products containing PFCs.
- Watch for packaged foods. Stay away from greasy or oily packaged and fast foods, as the packages often contain grease-repellent coatings. Examples include microwave popcorn bags, french fry boxes, and pizza boxes.
- Avoid stain-resistance treatments. Choose furniture and carpets that are not marketed as “stain-resistant,” and do not apply finishing treatments such as Stainmaster to these or other items. Where possible, choose alternatives to clothing that has been treated for water or stain resistance, such as outerwear and sportswear. Other products that may be treated include shoes, luggage, and camping and sporting equipment.
- Check your personal-care products. Avoid personal-care products made with Teflon or containing ingredients that include the words ”fluoro” or ”perfluoro.” PFCs can be found in dental floss and a variety of cosmetics, including nail polish, facial moisturizers, and eye make-up.
- Avoid Teflon® or non-stick cookware. If you choose to continue using non-stick cookware, be very careful not to let it heat to above 450ºF. Do not leave non-stick cookware unattended on the stove, or use non-stick cookware in hot ovens or grills. Discard products if non-stick coatings show signs of deterioration.
Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are a family of fluorine-containing chemicals with unique properties to make materials stain and stick resistant. PFCs are incredibly resistant to breakdown and are turning up in unexpected places around the world. Although these chemicals have been used since the 1950s in countless familiar products, they’ve been subjected to little government testing.
There are many forms of PFCs, but the two getting attention recently are:
- PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid, used to make Teflon products.
- PFOS or perfluorooctane sulfonate, a breakdown product of chemicals formerly used to make Scotchgardproducts.
- Food wrappings.
How am I exposed?
PFCs are used in wide array of consumer products and food packaging.
Grease-resistant food packaging and paper products, such as microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes, contain PFCs.
PFOS was used until 2002 in the manufacture of 3M’s Scotchgardtreatment, used on carpet, furniture, and clothing.
PFOA is used to make DuPont’s Teflonp roduct, famous for its use in non-stick cookware. If Teflon-coated pans are overheated, PFOA is released.
PFCs are in cleaning and personal-care products like shampoo, dental floss, and denture cleaners.
- Even Gore-Tex clothing, beloved in the Northwest for its ability to shed water, contains PFCs.
Why should I be concerned?
PFCs are very persistent. Even if production were to end today, levels would continue to increase in the environment for many years to come. Researchers are finding serious health concerns about PFCs, including increased risk of cancer.
- PFOA is a likely human carcinogen; it causes liver, pancreatic, testicular, and mammary gland tumors in laboratory animals. PFOS causes liver and thryoid cancer in rats.
- PFCs cause a range of other problems in laboratory animals, including liver and kidney damage, as well as reproductive problems.
- PFOA’s half-life in our bodies, or the time it would take to expel half of a dose, is estimated at more than 4 years. PFOS’s half-life is estimated at more than 8 years.
What can government and industry do?
PFCs have been produced, used, and disposed of essentially without regulation for the last half-century.
Rising levels of PFCs in the environment and increasing governmental pressure, however, have led to voluntary actions to reduce PFC production and use.
- In 2002, 3M ceased using PFCs for its signature product, Scotchgard, because of concerns over release of PFOS and PFOA during manufacture and use.
- In early 2006, the EPA, Teflon manufacturer DuPont, and seven other companies announced an agreement to reduce PFOA in emissions from manufacturing plants and in consumer products by 95% by the year 2010.
While these actions are a step in the right direction, they do not adequately protect public health from the dangers posed by PFCs.
- The state and federal government should act to phase out PFOA as well as chemicals that break down into PFOA.
- As part of its Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxics Program, Washington state should complete a chemical action plan for PFOA and chemicals that break down into PFOA by 2007.
- The federal government should conduct and expedited review of the remaining PFCs, and take action if problems are identified.
How can I reduce my exposure?
Avoid purchasing or, at a minimum, limit use of products containing PFCs.
Watch for packaged foods. Stay away from greasy or oily packaged and fast foods, as the packages often contain grease-repellent coatings. Examples include microwave popcorn bags, french fry boxes, and pizza boxes.
Avoid stain-resistance treatments. Choose furniture and carpets that aren’t marketed as “stain-resistant,” and don’t apply finishing treatments such as Stainmaster to these or other items. Where possible, choose alternatives to clothing that has been treated for water or stain resistance, such as outerwear and sportswear. Other products that may be treated include shoes, luggage, and camping and sporting equipment.
Check your personal-care products. Avoid personal-care products made with Teflon or containing ingredients that include the words ”fluoro” or ”perfluoro.” PFCs can be found in dental floss and a variety of cosmetics, including nail polish, facial moisturizers, and eye make-up.
Avoid Teflon® or non-stick cookware. If you choose to continue using non-stick cookware, be very careful not to let it heat to above 450ºF. Do not leave non-stick cookware unattended on the stove, or use non-stick cookware in hot ovens or grills. Discard products if non-stick coatings show signs of deterioration.