Sunday, December 1, 2013

Catching fire

This long weekend I had the pleasure of enjoy free HBO and ENCORE thanks to directv (I guess they are thankful for me being such a loyal customer, and thank you thank you for free HBO). So, I scanned regularly what was offered in these 5 days. This morning the most interesting show was a documentary, The Toxic Hot Seat, a documentary about the cancer causing properties of flame retardants commonly used in furniture today AND in many baby articles such as mattresses, car seats, and the beloved breastfeeding pillows. The chemicals are in the cushioning inside, and every time you lay down on your couch or the baby lays down on a baby pillow, air is released from the chemically treated cushion, whirled into the air, and the person will breath it in. – It won’t have an impact right away, but the toxins accumulate in the body and are a leading cause for cancer.


The documentary starts out reasonably enough with a 60 year old man who took on supporting the use of flame retardants all his life, after he was burnt himself at 9 years old. So, yes, flame retardants, don’t we all need them to be safe? It is a fact that a leading cause of fires in the US and worldwide are … cigarettes, dropping lit cigarettes (but who smokes today anyhow?). Originally, the tobacco industry got behind flame retardants, because making a cigarette that would self extinguish and taste good seemed not possible.

So, let’s make furniture less likely to catch fire (hello, Katniss!). In the 70s, people could buy sprays to protect furniture. This chemical, Tris (aka tris (2,3,-dibromopropyl) phosphate), was also used in childrens’ clothing. Back in the 1970s, a researcher investigated how much of this chemical would enter children’s bodies through the skin, and the results were so disturbing that legislation forbid to add this chemical to childrens’ clothing. However, it is still used in furniture and many other baby products. ---- So, this is really a new problem of the last 20-30 years. Flame retardants are only widely used since the 80s-90s. A new source for childhood cancer and potentially also the increased rates of autism. (BTW, they are already phased out in Europe.)

Another sad/interesting aspect is the 6-fold increased cancer rate of firefighters compare the regular population who have to extinguish fires in this ‘chemical soup’ of flame retardants released by burning furniture and breath in the chemicals in the fires.

There are many efforts to a) make the chemical industry prove that those flame retardants are safe or b) to stop them being used so liberally (because they are really not that effective in preventing fires, just effective enough to give you cancer). But of course, the chemical industry has deeper pockets to fight those civil uprisings with plenty of tv ads. So far, it’s been stuck in the legislation and never made. Therefore, the people pursue prize winning investigative journalism, and make films and hopefully, eventually it reaches a critical mass of people who say “what the hell?!” 

So, watch it.

Maybe, think twice about those bobby pillows. Just a thought. At least know what you are doing.

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