The Environmental Protection Agency will review 20 flame retardants used in common household items, in response to mounting research linking these chemicals to cancer, neurological damage and other health effects. The EPA will conduct risk assessments on four of the chemicals under the existing Toxic Substances Control Act, legislation that the agency acknowledges needs to be reformed in order to better protect Americans from toxic chemicals.
The chemicals are used to increase a material’s resistance to fire and are present in a host of items, including mattresses, furniture, electronics, clothing and food. The EPA notes that the chemicals can persist in the environment, making their way into household dust and eventually accumulating in people’s blood — in fact, researchers have found 97 percent of people in the U.S. test positive for flame retardants in their blood.
Flame retardants have been studied extensively and linked to a multitude of health effects. The flame retardant Tris, which was banned in the 1970s from children’s pajamas but is still found in a host of items, has been associated with cancer and harm to the liver, brain and kidneys. Several of the chemicals have been found to be endocrine disruptors — one flame retardant was found to cause “extreme weight gain, early onset of puberty and cardiovascular health effects” in lab animals. One study found the presence of certain flame retardants in umbilical cord blood to be associated with slowed neurological development in children. In fact, flame retardants were included among more than 800 chemicals that constitute a “global threat” in a World Health Organization report last month.
The EPA’s announcement comes amid increased pressure to address the health affects of flame retardants. Officials in California are pushing legislation that would ban the chemicals in household furniture and baby products sold in the state. Last month, 23 Democratic senators wrote a letter to the EPA, urging it to address the dangers flame retardants pose to human health. In January, Gatorade announced it would be removing the flame retardant bromated vegetable oil in its products in response to complaints and a popular change.org petition. The EPA’s announcement also comes a year after promises by the agency to investigate the chemicals in response to a Chicago Tribune series investigating the chemicals.