Revelations Tuesday that a toxic flame retardant we thought was gone is still being used in furniture and baby products illustrates major problems with U.S. toxic chemical law. Tri-dichloropropyl phosphate, abbreviated TDCPP, was once used in children’s pajamas, but was believed to have been voluntarily phased out in the 1980s after researchers discovered that the chemical caused DNA mutations. According to a study published in a recent issue of journal Environmental Science and Technology, the chemical is still being used in furniture foam and and children’s products today.
Ironically, controversy around another class of toxic flame retardants, PDBEs, may be responsible for the resurgence of TDCPP. As California and other states considered bans on PDBEs, known endocrine disrupters that mimic human hormones and cause problems with developing reproductive systems, among another things, manufacturers may have shifted back to TDCPP.
Researchers were shocked. “We were under the impression that the use of phosphate-based flame retardants had stopped when they stopped using it in children’s pajamas,” lead researcher Heather M. Stapleton of the Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment told Discovery Health. “None of us thought they were using it in furniture.”
The American public should be outraged. The primary legislation regulating chemicals in the United States, Toxic Substances Control Act, is in dire need of reform, according to the Environmental Working Group. When the law passed in 1976, it summarily approved the 60,000+ chemicals on the market without requiring health studies. Since than, 20,000 chemicals have been approved. When a chemical is suspected to be dangerous, there is an extremely high burden of proof on the government to show harm before taking action. That’s completely backwards. The burden should be on the company to show safety.
EWG is calling for passage of something called the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act, which would shift the burden of proof and prioritize health testing for chemicals that have been found in people, like PBDEs. The group hopes the bill will be introduced in Congress this fall.
In the mean time, protecting kids from toxins like these is tough. Our colleagues over at Healthy and Green Living have some ideas which include frequent cleaning to eliminate dust, a primary means of exposure, and seeking out flame-retardant free products. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that particularly comforting.