A growing number of scientists, parents and pet owners, advocates, and public officials are becoming more and more concerned about common household chemicals that can prove to be highly toxic. Their research is geared toward eliminating toxins from homes rather than continuing to allow manufacturers to simply swap out one harmful ingredient for another once the original is banned, which has long been an industry standard.
As an example, in recent history, parents became especially concerned about a popular chemical, bisphenol A, also known as BPA. Once knowledge of its harmful properties became public, the chemical was widely replaced with a close cousin, bisphenol S. This means, baby bottles, utensils, and pacifiers labeled BPA-free could be just as dangerous as they were with BPA present, and recent research has shown this is the case.
And then there are the flame retardants in furniture called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, that have been proven toxic. When scientists deemed those toxic, the industry switched to Tris, the same chemical prohibited in children’s pajamas. Tris, PBDEs and related fire retardants belong to a class called organohalogens. Just this past September, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) voted to take steps to ban the entire group after scientists testified before the commission to the breadth of evidence linking organohalogens to brain damage, immune disorders, reproductive issues, and even cancer. Dr. Courtney Carignan, who was involved in a study linking one such related group of flame retardants to reproductive issues specifically concluded, “These findings suggest that exposure to PFRs may be one of many risk factors for lower reproductive success.”
In a separate vote, the CPSC banned five types of phthalates from childcare toys and other products. The chemicals were present in common play items such as rubber ducks. Research has shown they can inhibit hormone production and negatively affect the male reproductive system.
The American Chemistry Council criticized the commission’s decisions, however. Bryan Goodman, a spokesperson for the council, said, “Rather than issuing blanket hazard statements about groups of chemicals – some of which can play an important and at times lifesaving role – we should evaluate these chemicals based on their individual toxicological profiles and real-world exposures.”
“There are simply too many of these chemicals in the market and entering the market to regulate them one-by-one,” Robert Adler, a member of the CPSC said. “We’re playing whack-a-mole with the public and our children’s health.” He added, “I have concluded that we must not sit idly by and wait for data on the safety of OFRs [organohalogen flame retardants] that all evidence to date suggests will never come. As one of the witnesses at our hearing pointed out, if we took the tobacco industry’s word on cigarette safety, we would still be waiting.”
The CPSC put out guidelines designed to encourage manufacturers to voluntarily stop adding the chemicals to upholstered furniture, baby and toddler products, mattresses and electronics enclosures. “We make progress with healthier furniture and children’s products,” added Arlene Blum, Executive Director of the Green Science Policy. “But the overall use of harmful chemicals in products continues to increase.”