Tuesday, Nov 1, 2016 

Health

Chemical Soup 

Doctor warns flame retardants everywhere

Dr. Meg Sears, PVN

 

he festival and diseases are like fire and brimstone, with the Hallowe’en bridge paved in chemicals meant to slow burning – flame retardants. Exuding from plastic holiday costumes and trappings, and from many everyday products, flame retardants can affect hormone systems and cause breast, prostate and other cancers, and many chronic health problems.

Real pumpkins don’t burn. Opt for a healthier Hallowe’en with creative costumes from the back of the closet, a good ol’ pillowcase for the loot, and natural instead of plastic decorations.

Persistent flame retardants are hard to avoid. They are in homes, furniture, electronics and clothing, and get into fish and wildlife and our blood, fat, breast milk, and newborn babies. Chemicals are absorbed through the skin, contaminate dust, wash off products and end up in waterways, and over decades, have spread to contaminate global environments.

Canadian scientists concerned about widespread chemicals that disrupt hormone (endocrine) systems, the Endocrine Disruptors Action Group (EDAction), released a new report Toxic by Design. Recent generations have seen a succession of toxic, persistent flame retardants being replaced with similar chemicals. Worse, as the toxic brew gets more complicated chemicals can team up to be harmful, and it is harder to see through the fog of scientific uncertainties to pin the blame on the culprits.

Earlier chemicals resembling hormones with chlorine atoms were found to persist in the environment, accumulate in our bodies and be toxic. “Polychlorinated biphenyls” or PCBs were banned, only to be replaced with similar chemicals adorned with the chemical cousin bromine. Chemists are not surprised that history repeated itself.

In 2006, some “polybrominated diphenyl ethers” or PBDEs were recognized as toxic. A geeky fact – PBDEs with 4, 5 or 6 bromine atoms were banned while those with 7 to 10 bromine atoms were permitted. This is puzzling and perverse because the permitted versions degrade in the environment to form the banned chemicals.

Finally, the other PBDEs are to be banned from manufacturing in Canada. EDAction tells us, however, that PBDEs are actually not manufactured in Canada. Banning raw materials will have little effect because PBDE-containing goods such as fabric, foam, furniture, clothing, electronics and building materials are exempt. Recycled plastics and foam can be contaminated.

So, Canadian stores will still sell products with flame retardants that are so toxic that they merit “virtual elimination.” Thank globalized trade. EDAction says to write a letter asking for labelling. Albeit a mediocre second-best, labelling would enable safer consumer choices if better choices are available. The treat is that there are hundreds of possible chemical substitutes. The trick is that chemical cousins may be just as bad.

Canada should aspire to a goal of safe chemicals within a generation. The real solutions, when possible, are to opt for inherently safer, more durable alternatives, such as metal rather than plastic, naturally flame retardant fabrics including linen and wool, to skip unnecessary uses such as in foam cushions, and to ensure independent science.

We have until December 7th to respond about more flame retardants and until December 1st to tell Parliamentarians that we want to shift to clearly least-toxic, inherently safe options. It is time It’s time to review those ill-founded flammability standards, and to stop the parade of hazardous chemicals that are permitted until proven to be toxic.

That is too scary!

Prevent Cancer Now is a Canadian national civil society organization including scientists, health professionals and citizens working to stop cancer before it starts, through research, education and advocacy to eliminate preventable causes of cancer.

For additional information, please contact Meg Sears, PhD, Chair and Science Advisor, Prevent Cancer Now by phone at: 613 297 6042 or via email here


 

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