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Why Scientists Support the Petition Asking the CPSC to Ban Consumer Products Containing Any Organohalogen Flame Retardants

In 2015, a broad coalition of groups filed a petition asking the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban four categories of consumer products—children’s products, furniture, mattresses and the casings around electronics—if they contain any flame retardant in the chemical class known as organohalogens.

This entire class of chemicals has been associated with serious human health problems. Nevertheless, the chemicals continue to be used at high levels in consumer products. The most effective solution is to ban products containing this entire class of chemicals. (Related news release.)

Quotes from scientists supporting the petition asking the CPSC to ban consumer products containing any organohalogen flame retardants:

Terrence Collins, PhD

Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry and Director, Institute for Green Science, Carnegie Mellon University

"Organohalogen flame retardants have highly persistent and toxic combustion by-products, readily bioaccumulate and can resist breakdown inside cells, can modify the DNA or disrupt its function, and can act as endocrine disruptors.

"To the best of my knowledge, there is no sound evidence showing a lack of health harm for any organohalogen flame retardants studied to date."

Miriam Diamond, PhD

Professor of Geography, Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, University of Toronto

"There is a sufficient body of knowledge to conclude that all organohalogen flame retardants—because they are semi-volatile organic compounds—will tend to migrate out of the consumer products in which they are present in additive form, resulting in human exposure.

"The inevitability of this human exposure, combined with the evidence showing that these compounds have toxicity, leads to the conclusion that all organohalogen flame retardants present in consumer products in additive form pose significant risks to human health."

David Eastmond, PhD

Professor and Chair, Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, and Research Toxicologist at the University of California, Riverside

"All of the non-polymeric OFRs [organohalogen flame retardants] that we have screened were found to be either of high concern or toxic. The list of studied chemicals includes a large number of OFRs in use or available for potential use in consumer products.

"The results of our screening show that critical toxicological data are lacking for many OFRs, and that those for which data are available have the potential to pose significant hazards for human or environmental health."

David Epel, PhD

Professor Emeritus in Marine Sciences, Cell and Developmental Biology, Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University

"Properties shared by all organohalogen flame-retardants as a class can lead to adverse effects for human health. This class of chemicals easily enters the cells, may decrease the cells’ ability to keep out other toxic compounds, and can cause adverse health effects.

"Because of these findings, my professional opinion is that consumer products containing non-polymeric organohalogen flame-retardants in additive form (which results in exposure) should be banned."

Rolf Halden, PhD

Director, Center for Environmental Security and Professor of Engineering, Arizona State University; Adjunct Faculty, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

"I strongly believe that there is a need to regulate hazardous chemicals, such as organohalogen flame retardants, as classes or compound families. The mass manufacture of toxic chemicals that lack effective routes of degradation creates unnecessary problems for current and future generations.

"The solution to this problem ultimately depends on curtailing the use and production of chemicals sharing structural and functional similarity to known hazardous compounds, rather than making minor modifications to the carbon backbone or halogen substitution pattern, and then hoping for a different, better outcome."

Kim Harley, PhD

Associate Adjunct Professor in Maternal and Child Health and Associate Director for Health Effects, Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health, University of California, Berkeley

"Women with higher levels of flame retardants in their blood: (i) took significantly longer to get pregnant; (ii) had babies with lower birth weight; and (iii) had lower thyroid hormone levels during pregnancy. We also assessed the development of over 300 children and found that, by the time they were 5 to 7 years old, their mother’s flame retardant exposure during pregnancy was associated with lower IQ (a decrease by 6 points on average), attention problems, and impaired fine motor coordination, particularly in the non-dominant hand.

"Based on my research on the impacts of PBDE flame retardants on the health of pregnant women and their children and the increasing evidence of harm from the replacement flame retardants, it is my professional opinion that all organohalogen flame retardants may pose similar risks, especially to fetuses and young children."

Julie Herbstman, PhD

Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

"Prenatal exposure to penta-BDEs is associated with lower scores on indices of both cognition (e.g., IQ) and behavior throughout childhood.

"My professional opinion is that there is reason to be concerned that the entire class of organohalogen flame retardants may cause injury or illness to humans, particularly to fetuses and young children. To prevent human exposure, these chemicals should not be used in additive form in consumer products."

Susan Kasper, PhD

Associate Professor of Environmental Health, University of Cincinnati, College of Medicine

"We have studied the endocrine disrupting activities of Firemaster® 550 (FM 550), a new-generation flame-retardant mixture. FM 550 might now be the most commonly used flame retardant in polyurethane foam.

"FM 550 exerts anti-androgenic-like activity in prostate cancer [which] implies a high probability that FM 550 will also exert its anti-androgenic effects on non-cancerous processes. These include the development and function of the male reproductive system (prostate, seminal vesicles, penis, testes, epididymis), spermatogenesis, and male fertility as well as normal ovary development in females.

"The available data on organohalogen flame retardants indicates a high likelihood that other yet unstudied members of this class of chemicals are also endocrine disruptors, which means they can impair normal cell development, and thus cause substantial personal injury or substantial illness."

Donald Lucas, PhD

Retired Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Professional Researcher, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley

"In addition to increasing the amount of acutely toxic gases and particles produced, the presence of organohalogen flame retardants in products during fires can increase the amounts of persistent organic pollutants produced by combustion processes, thus increasing the chronic toxicity of fires.

"In particular, incomplete combustion of products containing organohalogen flame retardants leads to the formation of halogenated dioxins and furans, substances that are considered amongst the most toxic chemicals known."

Ruthann Rudel, MS

Director of Research, Silent Spring Institute; Adjunct Research Associate, Brown University Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

"We found that the current levels of exposure to organohalogen flame retardants are often above health based guidelines.

"Our 2011 study indicated that banning individual flame retardants is ineffective because manufacturers tend to replace them with other chemicals with similar structures and hazards, including chemicals with uncharacterized toxicity."

Ted Schettler, MD, MPH

Physician and Science Director of the Science and Environmental Health Network; Science Director of the Collaborative on Health and Environment

"In general, halogenated organic molecules (i) are more resistant to metabolic break down, (ii) cross biologic membranes more readily, and (iii) gain access to cells and tissues more readily than non-halogenated compounds. Because of this, virtually all halogenated flame retardants have adverse impacts when they interact with cells and tissues of living organisms.

"This combination of circumstances—biologically active compounds, increased resistance to biologic degradation, ready access to biologic tissues, and widespread exposure—justifies evaluation of organohalogen flame retardants as a class and replacement with safer alternatives."

Roland Weber, PhD

Independent Consultant for Persistent Organic Pollutants, POPs Environmental Consulting, Germany

"Dioxins and furans have been found as impurities in organohalogen flame retardants in consumer products, can form from certain aromatic organohalogen flame retardants during the normal use of household products containing them, and can form from all organhalogen flame retardants when products containing them burn during household fires.

"Dioxins and furans are likely human carcinogens and have been linked—at very low doses—to a wide range of other adverse health effects."

Spotlight Features

Firefighters Turn Up The Heat On Flame Retardants

Flame retardants are among more than 80,000 chemicals on the market that have not been adequately tested for health and safety. They have received increased scrutiny for their potential health impacts on firefighters, as well as on the general public.

"To the best of my knowledge, there is no sound evidence showing a lack of health harm for any organohalogen flame retardants studied to date."

Terrence Collins, PhD
Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry and Director, Institute for Green Science, Carnegie Mellon University