A new study found traces of chemicals associated with flame retardants in a small number of Californians. That in itself is disturbing for a number of reasons. A variety of debilitating conditions are associated with the chemicals, including cancer, neurological diseases and developmental disorders in children.

This study, while small, underscores the dangers of California’s 1975 law that set fire safety standards for furniture manufacturers. As a result of the law, companies injected flame retardant chemicals into all upholstered furniture for the past 40 years.

Individuals absorbed the chemicals either through the skin while sitting on the furniture, or breathing in any residual dust from the injections. The California legislature revised the bill this past January to remove the requirement, but health officials warn the public health fallout will rage for years to come.

Silent Spring Institute, an environmental nonprofit, conducted the study with 16 residents in Richmond and Bolinas. Using the California’s Prop 65 carcinogen list, they tested the urine and homes of the study participants. 15 of the 16 tested positive for a chemical on the carcinogen list.

These same chemicals have been linked to an increase of cancer incidence among CA firefighters. They are prone to exposure while fighting blazes filled with furniture that contain the chemicals.

Researchers are even warning of the dangers of eating on the furniture that contains the chemicals. I think everyone has dropped something on the couch and then picked it up to eat. Doing that exposes you to possibly ingesting the carcinogen. Toddlers are especially at risk, because they literally put anything in their mouth.

The team at Silent Spring pointed out two concerning chemicals that were prevalent in the study – TCEP and TDCIPP. Both are on the Prop 65 list. In the 1970s, TDCIPP was banned from children’s pajamas over concerns about developmental risks. Since then, the chemical has become a mainstay in fire retardants in household furniture.

With the chemicals being dinged by researchers, the North American Flame Retardant Alliance pushed back on the small sample size.

“They have been shown to be an important element of a comprehensive fire-safety tool kit,” said spokesman Bryan Goodman in a statement. “This particular study, which includes an exceptionally small sample size, does not suggest that the flame retardants mentioned caused any adverse health effects.”

It is true that the sample size is small, but researchers conclude that if the study included all Californians, it would yield the same result. Residents have been exposed for 40 years. A similar study on Mexican children found levels of the chemicals seven times higher than children of the same age in Mexico.

The hope is the study provides the necessary ammunition to ban certain chemicals from being used as fire retardants. It should make state legislatures step back and assess what regulations they are passing, and what the long-term impacts are.

Read the complete report from Silent Spring here.

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