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Thyroid Hormone
Not needed and highly toxic

Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame-retardants were recently shown to be present at very high levels in the blood and house dust of Californians, possibly because of a unique Californian law that requires furniture to be flame-resistant. These chemicals are garnering much interest as of late because of their potential toxic health effects on humans. What are PBDEs, and why might they be toxic?

There are 209 different PBDE varieties, also called congeners. They are identical in molecular structure except that the number and/or position of bromine atoms in each congener vary. One of these congeners, pentabrominated diphenyl ether (penta), is a mixture containing congeners with four, five, and six bromine atoms. It was used extensively in polyurethane foam.

The manufacture of penta was banned by the European Union in 2003 and by the U.S. in 2004 because of increasing evidence of the congener’s toxicity in humans and other organisms. However, no import restrictions exist on products containing penta. Other countries can manufacture penta, add it to consumer products and sell those products in America.

Penta and other PBDEs accumulate in fatty tissues in animals of all kinds and can be passed from mother to child via breast milk. Even though penta was banned in the U.S, it is still present in homes, animals, humans and the environment because of its prevalence in furniture bought before the ban; its use in imported furniture and its apparent resistance to degradation. Other PBDE varieties such as octa and deca, used in plastic electronics casings such as for televisions, volatilize out of the plastic and into the air. They are banned in several states because they have been shown to cause liver toxicity, disrupt reproductive systems and cause endocrine disruption.

PBDEs sound like bad actors, but once upon a time they were the good guys. They replaced polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) flame-retardants, which were banned by the United States Congress in 1976. PCBs, like PBDEs, are incredibly persistent: 30 years after the ban, PCBs are still found ubiquitously in mammals, human blood and umbilical cords, fish, birds, air, soil, lakes, rivers, house dust, sewage and wastewater sludge.

PCBs were used in coolants, insulating plasticizers, paints, cements, electrical wiring PVC coating, electronic components and pesticide extenders as well as in flame-retardants. Some industrial manufacturing areas are extremely contaminated with PCBs, such as the Hudson River, where fishing has been banned since 1976 due to the high levels of PCBs found in the river and fish. PCBs are considered especially deleterious because when burned, they react with oxygen and turn into the very toxic dioxin. PCBs are carcinogenic, decrease bone density in humans, increase behavioral and reflex problems in rats and decrease immune function in mice.

The basic structure of PCBs is similar to that of PBDEs. This is concerning because structurally similar molecules often have similar functions or modes of action in the human body. Both chemicals are also structurally similar to thyroid hormone, and animal studies have shown that PBDEs does in fact alter thyroid homeostasis.

PBDE flame-retardants look similarly to a known, banned toxin. They accumulate in humans and other animals, resist degradation, and exert toxic effects. The question remains, do they reduce the incidence of fire-related deaths?

A 2006 report by J. R. Hall, Jr. for the National Fire Protection Association shows from 1980 to 1999 states not requiring fire-retardants in furniture experienced the same decline in fire-related deaths that California did; flame-retardants have not displayed a measurable effect on the reduction of house fires. Arleme Blum, a Chemist from the University of California, Berkeley who researches extensively about flame-retardants, points out in a 2006 op-ed article for The New York Times, “most fatal furniture fires are caused by cigarettes, which typically smolder for half an hour after being put down.” 

Recent legislation at the state level in many states across the nation mandates the manufacture of fire-safe cigarettes, which go out when set down due to “speed bumps” of thickened cigarette paper. Smoking materials such as cigarettes are the primary cause of fire deaths in the United States. If that threat is reduced, what use are toxic chemicals?

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Waiting for...
By InvertMe on 10/31/2008 9:47:49 AM , Rating: 5
the obligitory:

Everything causes cancer so who cares

Liberals try to ban everything and don't know anything

I hate hippys

We should keep using this stuff and not enough proof of cancer causing effects have been shown

Comments from the usual offenders.

RE: Waiting for...
By FITCamaro on 10/31/2008 9:55:59 AM , Rating: 2
Why you gotta spoil the fun?

RE: Waiting for...
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 10/31/08, Rating: 0
RE: Waiting for...
By InvertMe on 10/31/2008 10:23:45 AM , Rating: 5
I agree to much of anything will kill you from some sort of cancer and hippies are the most self-centered, worthless as humans generation ever created.

Most of the chemicals people use just aren't needed anyways. The benifits they offer are minor compaired to cost or potential risks. Better just to keep stuff as "natural" as possible. (yes I know there is tons of natural stuff that will kill people)

As for hippies I think you get them confused with radical environmentalists. Most of the hippies I know are pretty chill and don't really bother anyone about anything.

RE: Waiting for...
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 10/31/2008 10:31:36 AM , Rating: 5
I'm talking about the hippies generation of the 60's, who became the Yuppies in the 80's which are now in charge of business and are the super over paid for little work CEO's and other high level jobs.
Not saying CEO do not or should not earn a high wage... However, I have a problem with a CEO taking home a 5, 10, or 50 million dollar salary when the company they are running is losing money.

RE: Waiting for...
By MrBlastman on 10/31/2008 10:38:16 AM , Rating: 4
I concur, all while not cutting their own pay and laying everyone off below them and forcing them to take pay cuts and sacrificing their Christmas bonuses.

RE: Waiting for...
By InvertMe on 10/31/2008 10:58:28 AM , Rating: 2
I don't concider them hippies. But if that's your view then - yes I dislike them too. I blame greedy CEOs and lack of incentives to actually "try" for a lot of the problems in the USA now.

I think of hippies as the pot smoking non showering people who live (mostly) off the grid and listen to lots of grateful dead. I have a bunch who live near me and I like them all just fine.

RE: Waiting for...
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 10/31/2008 11:11:39 AM , Rating: 2
Again talking about Hippy Generation.... Not hippies themselves. Most people are OK one on one. It's the whole Hippy Generation that are in control now (of big businesses and politics) - Hippy Generation people - Obama, McCain, Clinton, Bush Jr. Maybe that gives you a better idea of whom I'm talking about (there are more of course in the business sector but their names are not as well known). Next up when the Hippy Generation start to die off (they will not retire, they refuse to share the wealth) will be the Disco Generation, then the New Wave Generation, then the Grunge Generation.... I just hope when these future Generations come into power they learn that the self-center greed of the Hippy Generation did extreme damage to this country's strength and wealth.

RE: Waiting for...
By PhoenixKnight on 10/31/2008 6:00:01 PM , Rating: 3
Hippy Generation people - Obama, McCain, Clinton, Bush Jr.

McCain? I thought he was part of the caveman generation.

RE: Waiting for...
By foolsgambit11 on 11/1/2008 8:54:45 PM , Rating: 3
At the very least, it's odd to put Obama and McCain in the same generation. They're 25 years apart in age.

RE: Waiting for...
By Parhel on 10/31/2008 9:29:25 PM , Rating: 2
Most people, when referring to that generation as a whole, call them the "Baby Boomers." And I agree that they have been the greediest generation in recent memory, and have basically sold out their children so they could have a better "quality of life." They were the reason that, today, women pretty much all have to have jobs, and children have to be raised by "child care professionals." You double the work force, you cut the real income of the worker in half.

RE: Waiting for...
By michael2k on 10/31/2008 2:11:38 PM , Rating: 5
Why should we keep using flame retardants if they don't actually do anything useful except hurt us?

In fact, not using them should make things cheaper, as well as less toxic.

RE: Waiting for...
By mezman on 10/31/2008 3:19:22 PM , Rating: 2
You hate hippies?? Me too!! We should be BFFs.

RE: Waiting for...
By GlassHouse69 on 10/31/2008 10:42:21 PM , Rating: 2
most people on here are morons, so like that makes sense.

RE: Waiting for...
By Reclaimer77 on 11/3/2008 10:37:07 AM , Rating: 2
This is purely a guess, but I doubt furniture companies took it upon themselves to add these materials. Sounds like another federally mandated " feel good " policy forced onto businesses. Who, as always, get made into the bad guys when something unexpected happens. I.E Mortgage " crisis ".

RE: Waiting for...
By Reclaimer77 on 11/3/2008 11:00:42 AM , Rating: 2
Or they got sued repeatedly because their product went up like a tinderbox in a house fire. Big shock right ? And they felt compelled to do something to limit the avalanche of frivolous lawsuits businesses have to endure.

Either way, I'm betting its not their fault.

By petschska on 10/31/2008 10:07:14 AM , Rating: 5
First off, the title is poor since phosphorus based flame retardants have not been shown to have those toxicity problems so it should really read Brominated Flame Retardants.

Older forms of BFRs (Brominated Flame Retardants) are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic. That is the reason Pentabrom, PBDE, PCBs, and soon to be HBCD have been banned.

Many BFR products that companies push are much safer. Every new BFR product undergoes extensive toxicity testing that determines how safe it is. If it is determine unsafe, the product is dropped. Because of these earlier BFRs, these companies now know what to look for and avoid in future products.

Industry preference is actually for PFRs (Phosphorus-based Flame Retardants); however, some companies are unwilling to change from a product they know works, more PFR is usually required to have the same fire retardancy as BFRs, and PFRs may cost more than BFRs.

The main problem is this legacy of older bad products; but that happens with many industries. Yes, we need to deal with and clean up our mistakes. We didn't know it at the time, but now we have learned and we move on, just like anything else. If you burn your hand on the stove, you don't throw out the stove. You learn how to use it properly.

Flame retardants are also not really meant to prevent fires. Notice that the word retardant is used and not resistant or proof. FRs are designed to slow down the progression of fires and make the not burn as hot, which gives fire departments more time to respond and gives people more time to safely exit a house fire. The more time the fire department has, the fewer houses a fire may spread to.

So try to temper your articles with a bit of both sides. Your article is informative and well researched; however, you neglected to present the other side of the story which led to a very biased article.

RE: One-sided
By The Irish Patient on 10/31/2008 10:44:32 AM , Rating: 3
Good post. The ultimate question is whether the risks outweigh the benefits. If not, watching your children burn to death is not a good alternative to the use of flame retardants. The article doesn't really answer the question for me.

A 2006 report by J. R. Hall, Jr. for the National Fire Protection Association shows from 1980 to 1999 states not requiring fire-retardants in furniture experienced the same decline in fire-related deaths that California did; flame-retardants have not displayed a measurable effect on the reduction of house fires.

The two halves of that sentence don't go together. The author's unstated assumption is that furniture manufacturers maintain two separate production lines. One production line is for furniture destined for California and other states requiring flame retardant. Furniture for all other states comes off of a separate production line where flame retardants aren't used.

More likely, furniture manufacturers maintain one production line, making the California law the de facto standard for the USA. The article admits that fires are in decline everywhere to a significant extent. The implication to me is that the stuff works. The hard, unanswered question is how the risks compare to the benefits.

RE: One-sided
By InvertMe on 10/31/2008 11:01:10 AM , Rating: 4
If not, watching your children burn to death is not a good alternative to the use of flame retardants.

The smoke will kill your children long before the flames do and most of the flame retardants will just make them burn slower. (that sounds way more morbid than I intend it to)

RE: One-sided
By PedroDaGr8 on 10/31/2008 11:25:49 AM , Rating: 2
Sorry, I thought the same thing at first, but if you look at the hyperlink in the beginning of the article. Zota et al. (1) shows that Californians have drastically higher levels of flame-retardants in their homes than others (for example Cape Cod). By the way, this article, the Zota one, is in an ACS (American Chemical Society) journal which means that it is considered a reputable journal by chemists. I feel the DT article could have made this more clear, but what ever. The polychlrinated biphenyl's are worse than the PDBE's if you ask me. Ph-Br bonds are typically weaker than Ph-Cl bonds and the fact it is an ether means that there are methods of turning it into a phenol as opposed to biphenyls where you are breaking a C-C bond, not nearly as easy as breaking a carbon heteroatom bond.

1)Zota, A. R.; Rudel, R. A.; Morello-Frosch, R. A.; Brody , J. G. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2008 , 42 (21), 8158-8164 (website: )

If you have a university IP or live on a university, more than likely your school has an ACS subscription so you should be able to read this article.

RE: One-sided
By TheFace on 11/1/2008 1:12:57 PM , Rating: 2
There is also the possibility that some furniture manufacturers do not sell in the state of California, and thus are not subject to that particular requirement. Also, some manufacturers may have different lines in various parts of the country to cut down on transportation costs and some products go to California or western states and some do not. These are plausible explanations for less amounts of fire retardants in parts of the country.

RE: One-sided
By PedroDaGr8 on 10/31/2008 11:29:56 AM , Rating: 2
Also, that picture of the baby with chemicals is very sensationalistic. It is sort of like the filtrete commercial. That shows the baby and all of the evil bacteria and dust mites. IT is a play on peoples sensibilities, and is very intellectually dishonest, especially for an article that has a very serious and well researched, albeit still developing, in need of more research AND controvercial.

RE: One-sided
By PedroDaGr8 on 10/31/2008 11:35:04 AM , Rating: 2
Ugh, helps if I make a complete sentence(grr...forgotten words and spelling errors)

IT is a play on peoples sensibilities, and is very intellectually dishonest, especially for an article that has a very serious and well researched topic, albeit still developing, in need of more research AND controversial.

RE: One-sided
By PedroDaGr8 on 10/31/2008 11:35:06 AM , Rating: 2
Ugh, helps if I make a complete sentence(grr...forgotten words and spelling errors)

IT is a play on peoples sensibilities, and is very intellectually dishonest, especially for an article that has a very serious and well researched topic, albeit still developing, in need of more research AND controversial.

Affecting everybody
By Narcofis on 10/31/2008 9:01:46 AM , Rating: 1
I can't think of anything other than it's not just toxic to stand beside a smoker(Second hand smoke). Now, because of smoking this legislation was put in place in California and everybody is in somewhat dangerous position because of smoking.

I'm sure glad I don't live in California.

Just my 2 sense.

RE: Affecting everybody
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 10/31/2008 9:55:53 AM , Rating: 2
I miss the good old days. When your biggest concern was how much steroids were in body from the consumption meat and dairy products and everything else was safe :) We did not worry about the led paint we consumed as kids or the asbestos when inhaled in the schools. Ahhh fond memories....

RE: Affecting everybody
By PedroDaGr8 on 10/31/2008 11:14:13 AM , Rating: 2
Don't forget playing with liquid mercury and the Tetraethyl Lead in the exhaust pipes :-P

Someone F's up and we all suffer....
By Tegrat on 10/31/2008 9:46:18 AM , Rating: 2
This whole thing reminds me of being in high school. Some "yahoo" in the class does something wrong and the rest of us had to suffer the same consequences.

They make all the furniture with this chemical to stop Smokers from burning themselves to death. I say they are killing themselves slowly anyway, why not let "Darwinism" take them faster! Don't make everyone suffer because of a few Morons!

RE: Someone F's up and we all suffer....
By FaceMaster on 10/31/08, Rating: -1
RE: Someone F's up and we all suffer....
By InvertMe on 10/31/2008 9:50:30 AM , Rating: 2
Hahaha the picture's of a baby because it's retarded!!! Nice one Daily Tech, love your sense of humour.


By FaceMaster on 11/1/2008 10:40:27 AM , Rating: 1
Sigh, I knew that somebody wouldn't be clever enough to understand the Daily Tech's humour. Never mind, it's better for the rest of us!!!

By skeptic2 on 11/1/2008 10:10:22 AM , Rating: 3
If the chemicals do not help to reduce cigarette-caused fires and only work for small flame, why are they used at all? Who was the lame-brain responsible for the California law and how long has it been on the books? Since Calif. has no money to do anything contructive, does anyone enforce the law? Maybe we should just order furniture over the internet from Arizona or Nevada? I'm sure there are plenty of college frat bros who would be willing to burn their sofas in the street (the ones containing fire retardants) to demonstrate the stupidity of this law. Exactly how much more time will a load of FR buy you if the chair catches on fire? I'm not believeing that an extra minute makes any difference. A smoldering fire with tons of smoke will kill you just as effectively as an open fire.

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