In theory, flame retardants are supposed to slow the growth of fires and allow for extended escape time, in the event of a fire. In reality, these chemicals may provide only extra seconds of escape time, which is fine, but is it worth the long-term health risks? (Notice that the American Chemistry Council has sites promoting now refuted research on flame retardants and escape times - www.flameretardantfacts.com/benefits/). Also, these chemicals are only necessary because so many of the products we use today, including furniture foam, are made from petroleum products.
If you look around your home you will probably see some tags that look like this:
In 1975, California adopted Technical Bulletin 117, which required all furniture sold in the state to meet open-flame tests, so that the cushions would not ignite in the presence of a flame. Because CA is a large market, so furniture producers began to make all of their furniture with flame retardants and thus, the chemicals spread nationwide. Unfortunately, flame retardants are volatile and enter the air and our bodies.
A 2013 study by the MIND Institute at UC Davis found one component of the flame retardants accumulates in human blood, fat and breast milk.These chemicals are also persistent, meaning they are long-lasting in the environment (our homes and our bodies).
The institute summarized the study by saying the “chemical, quite literally, reduces brain power.” The findings “bolster the argument that genetics and environment can combine to increase the risk of autism and other neurological disorders.”
Yet many of these compounds have also turned out to be environmentally mobile and persistent — turning up in food and household dust — and are now so ubiquitous that levels of the chemicals in the blood of North Americans appear to have been doubling every two to five years for the past several decades.Young children may be the most vulnerable to flame retardant exposure because they are often found in children's products and children often spend time on the floor around dust. Exposure to these chemicals can lead to developmental problems, reduced IQ, cancer, and impaired fertility.
A recent film, Toxic Hot Seat, examined the issue of flame retardants and how they were making firefighters sick, as well as others.