Warehouse C
Poison In The Air
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Are New Fire Retardant Chemicals More Dangerous?


By James Donahue


For years the makers of upholstered household furniture, building materials, electronics, motor vehicles, aircraft, plastics, polyurethane foam and textiles were dosing these products with a fire retardant called Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDE.


In the 1990s researchers discovered that the PBDE was leaching into the air the getting into the food supply, and having an effect on the health of both man and animals. Alternative flame retardant chemicals were sought after studies showed that PBDE disrupted estrogen and thyroid hormones in babies and that the effects continued into adulthood. Studies found the chemical also toxic to the developing brains of animals. A single dose administered to mice during development of the brain caused permanent changes in behavior, including hyperactivity.


The search began for alternative chemical compounds to replace PBDE as effective fire retardants. In 2004 the flame-retardant industry began using two new products with names so long we won’t bother to spell them out. They go by the trade names Firemaster 550 (TBB) and Firemaster BZ-54 (TBPH).


Early research has turned up startling information about these new chemicals, which also are leaching into the environment, perhaps more rapidly than the old PBDE. It has already been found that the compounds are building up in fish and causing damage to their DNA.


Research has only begun in determining the possible effects these chemicals are having on humans and other animals.


What is disturbing is that researchers for the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, collected gas and particle-phase air samples throughout the Great Lakes area from 2008 and 2010, and found TBB and TBPH in most of the 507 samples collected between Chicago and Cleveland. They reported that the volume of these compounds were doubling about every 13 months.


Air samples from rural sites were not free of the chemicals. In about half of these air samples the levels of the chemicals were doubling every 19 months.


The compounds were even found in the air at Eagle Harbor, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.


We don’t yet know what harm this stuff is doing to our bodies and especially the impact it will have on newborn babies. All we know for sure is that everybody is absorbing it with every breath we take, and the amount of it in our air is increasing dramatically with each passing day.