By Claire Moshenberg
When I think about fire safety, I think about cartoons. Stick with me here. Every Saturday morning, half awake over bowls of cereal, my sister and I watched hours of Saturday morning cartoons. These blocks of animated programming were laced with PSAs preaching the importance of fire safety: Stop drop and roll. Be cool about fire safety. Hey kids, listen to this bear. You get the idea.
From day one, we're taught to avoid fire at all costs. Which is the twisted logic that sells flame retardants: If we all want to avoid fires, wouldn't we want our furniture to ward off flames? And even if those chemicals are toxic, it's not like we're gnawing on our couch cushions. If it keeps us safe, isn't it worth it?
Not quite. Lets break it down.
- Flame retardants appear in strollers, nursing pillows, couches, cell phones, TVs, computers, and more. And you don't have to snack on a couch cushion to absorb these chemicals: Exposures from furniture, baby products, car cushions, and more have led to Americans having ten times more flame retardant chemicals in their bodies than our friends in the EU, where the most common types of chemical flame retardants have been banned.
- There is actually no impartial data to support the myth promoted by the chemical industry that flame retardants are effective in preventing furniture fire deaths. In fact, flame retardant treated foam ignites after seconds and gives off high levels of the carbon monoxide, soot and smoke that are the major causes of fire deaths.
- Kids absorb flame retardants at a much faster rate than adults because of their small size and proximity to the floor, where dust lurks. Levels of chemical flame retardants are three times higher in toddlers and preschoolers than in their moms.
- Flame retardants are linked to reduced fertility, low IQ, and disruption of thyroid hormones.
I don't have a snappy PSA or a lovable bear who can tell you how to avoid flame retardants. But with some easy lifestyle changes, we can all lower our flame retardant levels. Here are our top six tips to avoid flame retardants:
Those PSAs were right: Make sure there are smoke detectors throughout your home. And don't stop there: Check them once a month. Pick a specific day, write it on your calendar, set up a reminder, do whatever you have to do to make sure it gets done. Develop an evacuation plan with your family. For parents of kids under five, limit flammable items in your home, like candles and matches, and keep them out of reach of small children.
Sing while you wash your hands: Okay, maybe not out loud. Hand washing is an important and easy way to lessen your chemical load. The amount of time required to thoroughly wash your hands is 20 seconds, which is also how long it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice in a row. Go for old fashioned soap and water instead of hand sanitizer when you can, and pick the safest soap for your home or office by looking it up on the Skin Deep database.
Go natural: Natural fibers, like wool or cotton, are more naturally flame retardant than synthetic fibers and require fewer chemical additives. If you're not in the market for new furniture, make sure to immediately mend rips in your upholstery that expose the inner foam, since the foam underneath the upholstery tends to be treated with flame retardants.
Take the pledge: Before buying new electronics, contact the manufacturer to make sure your electronics company of choice has pledged to phase flame retardants out of their products.
Watch out for dangerous dust bunnies: Household dust is often home to potentially harmful toxic chemicals. Improve your air quality and keep your living area clean by wet-mopping and vacuuming with a HEPA filter.
Read the label: Avoid products that use polyurethane foam or have a TB117 label. Some manufacturers state their products do not contain halogenated flame retardants, including: BabyLuxe organic pads and mattresses, BabyBjorn baby carriers, OrbitBaby strollers and car seats, and Boppy nursing pillows. Still, even with a safety promise, it's a good idea to double check with the manufacturer before you buy. You can check chemical levels in carseats and more on HealthyStuff.org.
Meet the Flame Retardants, from Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families: http://www.saferchemicals.org/toxic-chemicals/flame-retardants.html
Sitting Safely and Comfortably in California, by Arlene Blum for Capitol Weekly: http://www.capitolweekly.net/article.php?_c=zslaks57k61c8k&xid=zp42estfv5x0i8
Halogenated Flame Retardant Chemicals, from the Green Science Policy Institute: http://greensciencepolicy.org/halogenated-flame-retardant-chemicals
You can keep safe without chemical flame retardants, from USA Today: http://yourlife.usatoday.com/parenting-family/babies/story/2011/05/You-can-keep-safe-without-chemical-flame-retardants/46844890/1