Kathy from Schenectady, NY
Here's the thing:
Chlorinated tris is carcinogenic
Chlorinated tris does not prevent fires
Chlorinated tris is not required to meet NY or federal flammability standards.
Chlorinated tris was found in 50% of polyurethane foam samples from baby products tested in a Duke University study (that won the best published article of the year award from Environmental Science and Technology).
Banning this single chemical from children's products would reduce children's cancer risk. Is it the ultimate answer? Of course not. Is it an important step in the right direction that is embattled by the chemical industry? Of course.
One thing folks can do is seek products that contain polyester fiberfill, which achieves flammability standards without additive chemicals. The discussion should not be around which flame retardant chemicals are safer or more toxic, but how to achieve flammability standards without them. They're used in so many products that don't require them, such as nursing pillows. We're not talking about aircraft engines, the liner between a car engine and the cab, oven doors, or other points of ignition. We're all exposed, every day, without our knowledge or consent. The person who calls Ms. Rossol a 'chemophobe' is missing the point. We did not sign up for our babies to be the endpoint for dangerous, unnecessary chemicals.
Jun. 18 2012 02:44 PM
No chemical is required to meet any fire regulation. The fabric, foam, or material must meet specified burn tests. The regs are silent on how manufacturers get their materials to pass the flame tests.
I mostly agree with the rest of your statement. But polyester fiberfill doesn't stay fluffy. It mats. I've got pillows that make me dream I'm asleep in a quarry.
I looked on various safe mattress websites and was disturbed by some of their suggestions, especially the use of "latex." When I checked it was either natural rubber latex or a combination of natural and synthetic rubber latexes. Well, as an old time polymer chemist, I can tell you that natural and synthetic rubber are full of additives. Natural rubber degrades rather quickly becoming yellowed and brittle so lots of additives are needed. Butadiene and other synthetic rubbers also are full of stuff including unreacted monomer.
Then there are the natural rubber proteins to which about 14 % of medical personnel are now sensitized. There are 27 documented deaths and over 1000 documented anaphylactic shock reactions from rubber. And like all sensitizers, the more often you are exposed, the more likely you are to develop the allergy. It's a bad idea to sleep on it every night.
Bottom line is I'm a chemist and I'm not sure which mattress foam or fill is best. And I don't think anyone except the manufacturers do. And they ain't talking.
Bobbi from Albany
Thank you so much for covering this important topic. I remain concerned about Ms. Rossol's insistence that foam children's products ought to contain flame retardants. It reveals some dangerous gaps in her understanding of the flammability/flame retardant issue.
Everyone concerned about flame retardant chemicals should check out the Chicago Tribune series - which summarizes the science, interviews experts, and unveils the nasty Tobacco-playbook tactics the chemical makers are using to defend their toxic products. The whole multi-part series, complete with infographics and videos, is available here: www.chicagotribune.com/flames
The fact is, we don't need to add flame retardant chemicals in our couches and children's products. By the time the fabric has burned and the fire is through to the foam, it's going to burn, with our without chemical additives. "The fire just laughs at it," said a fire safety expert interviewed by the Tribune.
The best defense is flame-resistant outer coverings. 90% of upholstery fabric already resists smouldering. 23 million dollars have been poured into California ALONE to keep them from adjusting their regulations to meet the real world situations.
Passing S. 6080 here in Albany would get a known carcinogen out of baby car seats and changing pads. Dismissing this small but significant Senate action leaves my children, and the rest of the East Coast's children, in harm's way.
I urge your listeners to contact Senate Majority Leader Skelos at (516) 766-8383 and demand that S. 6080 get a vote in the full Senate before they go home on Thursday.
Jun. 18 2012 02:19 PM Score: 0/0
That response is well thought out, but not well-documented. Quoting a few experts as the Tribune articles do and lighting up a couch, doesn't work for me. I didn't mention on the program that I'm the Safety Officer for a local of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and an expert in theatrical safety. I'm also a member of two national organizations that set standards for safety including fire safety, so I need to see test data.
For example, fire effects or pyrotechnics can be used on stage. It is vital that all fabrics, props and costumes be fire retarded. These materials are checked with the same standard burn test that is used for curtains and clothing. The test is either done at a lab or by someone certified by the FDNY to do the field test. A strip of fabric of certain size and shape is exposed to flame for a given length of time and the test strip must self extinguish when the flame is removed. The fact that the fabric on that couch in the video did not self extinguish only means there was something wrong with that couch. I couldn't even allow it to be used on stage!
As for the Albany bill, it already gives them the right to use the other cancer-causing Tris, so what is gained? I can also assure you there are a hundred other toxic chemicals they can replace the Tris with, some of which are probably worse.
I wish you luck with the Albany bill, but I would hope that you might instead consider working for Sen.Lautenberg's Safe Chemicals Act. This bill would require industry to test 200 chemicals. I'm not thrilled with this bill either, since 200 chemicals out of the 19,000,000+ that are available by catalog today is pretty piddling. Hell, there are 209 polybrominated diphenyl ethers which are just one of dozens of classes of fire retardants. But it's a better number than one.
Amy from Manhattan
CK, didn't you hear Ms. Rossol say the gov't. didn't regulate *enough*, so the chemical co's. were free to introduce chemicals w/out adequate testing? They should have intervened *more*, as California did w/its Prop 65, which *added* regulation to limit what kinds of fire retardants could be used.
Jun. 18 2012 02:10 PM Score: 0/0
Industry has always been free to put untested chemicals in our products. Government can't regulate unless our representatives give them the tools and the authority to regulate. But our representatives gave EPA the Toxic Substances Control Act which says EPA can't compel an industry to test a new chemical unless EPA can prove (usually to a court challenge) that there is a significant risk to the environment or workers manufacturing the new chemical. Now, how do you prove significant risk for an untested chemical? It's obscene. Of 83,000 chemicals in their charge, EPA has gotten a few tests on about 200 chemicals. And there are 19 million chemicals available for catalog purchase today. Almost none of the chemicals we use have been tested.
The problem really is us. We have to understand the problem and demand our representatives address it. I don't think with the current status of education the electorate is up to this. But I keep trying anyway.
Stephanie from Huntington, NY
Do hoses such as garden hoses and the hose to your sink sprayer (or now the new faucets that have the sprayer built in that you can pull down to use) contain any of these dangerous chemicals? These are items that we use directly for watering our home garden or many use for cooking water. Thank you!
Jun. 18 2012 01:52 PM Score: 0/0
The hose probably does not contain fire retardants. But it will contain plasticizers, dyes and pigments, fillers, preservatives, and more. There are dozens of chemicals in all plastics. We will never even be able to find out what most of these are.
Molly from brooklyn, NY
my husband and i are headed out on a two month road trip in our new van, which we also plan to sleep in. any suggestions on how we can lessen our exposure while on the road? or should we rethink the trip?
Jun. 18 2012 01:51 PM Score: 0/0
Have a great trip! Sometimes you just have to take a risk. To lessen it, keep the windows open when you can. The more fresh air the better. Remember that the air conditioner does not provide much fresh air, it recirculates and cools the air inside the car.
Re: fire retardants affecting cat's thyroids --
Do they also affect human's thyroids? Are cats the canaries in the coal minem as they've been found have higher incidences of hyperthyroidism since fire retardants were added to carpeting and other household items which burn.
Re: mattresses -- Is it only foam mattresses which have fire retardant added?
Jun. 18 2012 01:50 PM Score: 0/0
You bring up an interesting point. It now is becoming clear that our pets are an important source of animal data. And vets have figured in some leads to chemical products when they notice many animals getting sick under unusual conditions. So maybe you have something there. The person to ask is your vet. S/he may have heard of cases like this. And since our pets have smaller body sizes and breathe and live closer to the dust and carpets, they are more at risk.
The problem with your theory that it is the fire retardants in the carpet, however, is weak. There are a host of other chemicals that are emitted by new carpeting.
Mattresses must meet certain fire tests. So either they are inherently fire-retarded or fire retardants have been added.
CK from YKT
It just strikes me that this has been caused by government intervening to "save us" (and so creating fire retardant stuff) which now makes us sick. Maybe less government interference. Bloomberg should be all over this: he's busy saving us from soda.
Jun. 18 2012 01:50 PM Score: 0/0
It would help for you to know the history of these regulations. They were started in the 1940s stimulated by horrendous fires due to the use of flammable and combustible materials in public places such as theaters and night clubs. One really pivotal event was in 1942 when the Coconut Grove night club's flammable and combustible materials ignited and 492 people were killed. That's when the fire standards for fabrics, wall treatments, insulation and the like were developed and soon these were incorporated into local fire codes and regulations. And only after this were some of these incorporated by reference into federal regulations.
The activists and standard setters concentrated on the tests to prove materials would self-extinguish. I know a lot about this process because I'm a voting member of three standard setting organizations and have been since the middle 1980s. And the government is not represented on any of these organizations.
The standards, however, only set the methods for proving materials will self extinguish under certain conditions. They do not dictate HOW the manufacturer gets their products to perform this way. It was the chemical industry that decided to use PCBs to retard stuff and then it all went sour.
These standards have been in place since before you were probably born. They were not developed by the "government." If I were you, I would look really hard at your assumption that it was "caused by government intervening to 'save us.'" That says a lot about you.
Laura dupouy from uws
Is it possible to get a safe mattress?
Jun. 18 2012 01:49 PM Score: 0/0
It would probably be possible if, and only if, any manufacturer would honestly tell you everything that is in the various materials they put together into the mattress. And since the mattress manufacturer puts the foam, the fabric, and other materials together, s/he is dependent on each manufacturer revealing what in each material. That's unlikely as well.
I was a polymer chemist for 7 years, and I don't know what's in my foam mattress. And I know I never will. But I also know, the longer I keep it, the less is outgassing from it. That's about the best I can do.
Jeb from Williamsburg
I'm shocked that this environmental expert is being asked to comment on autism. She's an activist, not a physician. And surely they could have found someone with a deeper level of information beyond mere chemophobia. I feel like I'm trapped in a poorly managed chat room.
Jun. 18 2012 01:48 PM Score: -1/1
Jeb, thanks for noticing that I'm an activist. That's the role I like best. But I'm a chemist and industrial hygienist by profession. Look up "industrial hygienist" and you'll see that basic toxicology and occupational and environmental diseases are part of our field.
Would shopping at farmers market and buying used clothing, etc also help?
Yes, please share what activist groups we can join to demand testing of these products.
Jun. 18 2012 01:44 PM Score: 0/0
There are a lot of good reasons for shopping at a farmers market other than avoiding fire retardants. The used clothing is OK, too, provided you are sure the old stuff didn't come out of a home with bed bugs. A thrift shop in NYC had that problem--hell, Sax 5th Avenue had it, too. The best strategy is to buy good quality in a style that can be worn for many years. The longer you own things, the less is released by them.
The two groups I like best are Earthjustice and the Environmental Working Group.
Yes, we need to pass comprehensive chemical laws in the United States. Until we get past that familiar problem of political will that Rossol mentioned earlier in order to make that happen, we need to at least get the known bad actor chemicals out -- which seems to be politically easier to do.
Jun. 18 2012 01:42 PM Score: 0/0
Actually, it is only a waste of the time, energy and commitment. Those resources would be better spent on the Safe Chemicals Act which would require testing of 200 chemicals and then working to expand that testing to larger groups of chemicals. When we have more data, we can begin to see the patterns of behavior in chemical classes and ban whole classes such as was done with all 209 PCBs.
Josh from New York, NY
I'm a former forest fire fighter (I used to rappel out of helicopter), and was regularly exposed to fire retardants. Should I get tested for something in particular? Thanks (I think).
Jun. 18 2012 01:41 PM Score: 0/0
I refreshed my memory after you asked that question on the radio. And I was right. Everything I saw was not much to worry about. You might want to google aerial fire fighting chemicals and take a look. I specifically looked at the most widely used Phos Chek and Phos Chek A Foam. The red dye is iron oxide and the chemicals are primarily inorganic low toxicity chemicals and a glycol in the foam product. I think you can relax.
Amy from Manhattan
The other use of flame retardants that I remember was in airplanes--the seat covers, I think. It turned out that many people who might otherwise have survived low-altitude crashes died when the planes caught fire & the seat material was highly flammable, until retardants were added.
Jun. 18 2012 01:38 PM Score: 0/0
Right on. That was the same cyanide smoke problem. Urethane and nylon are nitrogen-containing polymers that release cyanide gas when burned.
Re: Fire retardants -- They've been found to have relationship (causal, iirc) with cats developing hyperthyroid conditions (an expensive ailment to treat, and a miserable illness for the cats).
Is there any way other than plain uncarpeted floors to save our cats? It's hearbreaking to go through.
The retardants are in our carpets, right, and our furniture. Mattresses?
Jun. 18 2012 01:38 PM Score: 0/0
They are in all of those things and more. And fire retardants are only one of the types of chemicals being released. There is unreacted plastic monomer, plasticizers, preservatives, and a flock of other stuff.
Can you talk about the pending legislation in NY to ban chlorinated tris from children's products? It passed the Assembly unanimously but is stuck in the Senate. What's the hold-up? Folks need to let their Senators know we can easily protect kids from this toxic chemical.
Jun. 18 2012 01:38 PM Score: 0/0
There were two cancer causing Tris chemicals in that bill that were to be banned. One has already been banned. Now this bill would target the other one. And activists assume that ends Tris in fabrics. THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF OTHERS just waiting in the wings. They are probably already manufacturing some of these Tris chemicals. And there is no toxicity data on the new ones and every reason to assume they are just as toxic. If they declare their new ones trade secrets, no one will even know they are Tris! NOW how do you proceed? It will take a decade or more to get any data at all.
It's like banning BPA when BPS is already being manufactured and there is no toxicity data on it.
Carol from Staten Island
Do you recommend we remove meat from the packaging and re-package before freezing?
Jun. 18 2012 01:33 PM Score: 0/0
As I said on the program, it is a very small amount of a problem and if you take it off, what do you wrap it in? I'm more concerned about the chemicals already in the fat of the meat.
Joel from WESTCHESTER
Is anything being done about BENZOATE OF SODA?
Jun. 18 2012 01:31 PM Score: 0/0
I looked at several compilations of data and studies from WHO and other agencies and I just don't see what all the fuss is about. This chemical doesn't release benzene on metabolism in the body as far as I could see. It does not seem to affect reproduction in animals. It has a few short term effects, most not serious. I've heard others voice concern about this chemical, so I'll keep watching for information. But as of now, it seems pretty innocuous to me.
Laura from UWS
Dr. Rossol is among the greatest guests, ever!
What activist group(s) does she suggest we might join?
Many, many thanks.
Jun. 18 2012 01:28 PM
You are welcome. The two I like best are Earthjustice and The Environmental Working Group.