The study, written by scientists at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Duke University, examined 22 mothers and their 26 children. Of this group, 100 percent of the subjects showed exposure to the flame retardant TDCIPP.
TDCIPP is commonly used in couches, mattresses and cushioned furniture and is listed as a carcinogen in California. Studies of the chemical’s affect on animals have shown it to cause tumors in multiple organs and a 2012 Duke University analysis of over 100 cushion samples found that 50 percent of these samples contained TDCIPP.
Researchers in this latest study measured concentrations of “biomarkers” in subjects’ urine, or the compounds produced after fire retardants break down in the body. The Environmental Working Group explains that people most often absorb flame retardant particles by inhaling or swallowing dust, which may explain the higher exposure rate in children. Children, unlike adults, spend more time on the floor and also put their hands on their mouths more, often without washing their hands.
Along with TDCIPP, researchers also observed three components of the FireMaster brand flame retardant in subjects’ samples. These included ip-TPhP, TPhP and EH-TBB. TPhP is a common plasticizer and can be found in shower curtains and rubber and plastic toys. Studies show a possible correlation between TPhP and endocrine disruption, decreasing sperm count and increasing estrogenic activity. EH-TBB, when combined with the flame retardant TBPH, has been shown to cause developmental and reproductive damage in lab animals.
Furniture companies will often coat their products in flame retardants to comply with a 1975 California law that requires all furniture foam be able to withstand a small flame for 12 seconds. These chemicals can account for up to 11 percent of the total foam weight. Yet several studies have emerged linking flame retardants to serious health problems.
A common flame retardant, PBDE, was voluntarily discontinued by furniture manufacturers in 2004 after studies showed exposure could cause liver, thyroid and neruodevelopmental failures. This latest study by Duke and EWG is the first to test exposure levels in the flame retardants that have since replaced PBDE.