Flame retardants or fertility retardants?

This, or your baby?

If you watched The Story of Stuff, you might have been aware of the example of the tremendous amount of chemicals in many, if not all, of the consumer products we use. Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in pillows were featured as an example of the excessive chemical pollution in our lives. The Economist last month featured an article about flame retardants that twins nicely with what The Story of Stuff has covered.

In the article, polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), a form of brominated flame retardants, are used to reduce “the risk of ignition” but it is now so widespread that 97% of Americans have traces of it in their bodies. And it is suggested that these chemicals have effects on our health, such as in terms of fertility. In a study done in California, it appears that with each tenfold increase in PBDE concentration in the body one’s probability of becoming pregant decreases.

More studies are now underway to determine their effects, and these studies, once verified, would be important and may be perhaps groundbreaking, just like how DDT transformed overnight from being an ally in fighting pests to being a pest in itself. Will we be able to do away with BFRs? Will BFRs, whose concentrations have been doubling in our bodies every 4-6 years since the 1970s, do irreversible damage to our health? Unfortunately, only time will tell.

Meanwhile, some contrasting arguments coming from the environmentalists and the industrial experts. Greenpeace makes arguments for the phasing out of BFRs from our lives but will it be this easy? On the other hand Bromine Science and Environment Forum (BSEF) claims that BFRs are not as dangerous as the environmentalists make them out to be. So are the industrial experts, consisting of BFR manufacturers, telling the truth or are they themselves unaware of the full impact of their products?