5 Ways to Reduce Exposure to Toxic Fire Retardants

5 Ways to Reduce Exposure to Toxic Fire Retardants

How did something that was supposed to make our lives safer wind up becoming dangerous? And how can we avoid them?


Back in the 1970s, flame-retardants were introduced to make furniture safer around smokers. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has since decided they are of little use in protection from deadly fires. However, their use is still widespread, and, according to the Center for Environmental Health, the chemicals are found in the bodies of 97 percent of Americans tested. Flame-retardants are linked with serious health problems. Take, for example, a new study presented at the Endocrine Society, which suggests that recent increases in cases in thyroid cancer may be linked to levels of flame-retardants in homes. For this week’s Healthy Habit, let’s take a look at a few ways we can reduce our exposure to the toxic soup of fire retardants.

1) Shop Wisely

When furniture shopping, dig for a label. The Center for Environmental Health suggests looking for these labels under cushions or on the bottom of furniture. Ideally, it will say, “Contain NO added flame retardant chemicals.” Click to see a list of furniture companies that have removed flame-retardants from all of their products.

2) Clean More Often

Yes, I was not stoked to type that, but since flame-retardants are found in high concentrations in house dust, we want to keep that from building up at home. Use a HEPA filter to vacuum often, use wet mops, and wipe down flat surfaces regularly. Wash your hands after cleaning and always before eating, too, to avoid ingesting the chemicals.

3) Let in the Fresh Air

Open your window whenever you can for increased ventilation. Americans spend 93 percent of their time inside, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, so you’re breathing most of your air indoors. Make that air as fresh as you can.

4) Scrutinize Foam

Foam carpet padding, as well as baby products like nursing pillows, highchairs and baby carriers made with polyurethane foam are the most likely to contain toxic flame retardants, according to Choose down, polyester, wool or cotton alternatives. Foam products manufactured before 2005 are particularly suspect.

5) Reconsider Your Mattress

U.S. laws on mattress flammability are strict, meaning mattresses are drenched in fire retardants. Empowered gives a few options for cleaner alternatives: Intellibed, which uses a silica based fire blocker with a modacrylic fiber and no bio available chemicals; a certified organic mattress, meeting the Global Organic Textiles Standards; a wool mattress (you will still need to check labels and investigate); or a doctor’s note stating you need a chemical free mattress for medical reasons.

Now you rest a bit easier, knowing you’ve reduced some of your exposure to the modern chemical soup.

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.

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