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Tag: flame retardants

The Undeniable Truth About Our Environment

?A documentary aptly titled “Toxic Hot Seat” aired yesterday on HBO Channel. While I have yet to watch it, I have researched the topic (flame retardants) extensively for a feature article a while ago. They are a vile bunch of chemicals.

Just like so many other environmental toxic substances, flame retardants are so pervasive in today’s world that it comes down to this: If you are alive, you have them in your body. And if you do, then you may, at some point in your life, experience the plethora of health problems that come with them. Flame retardants accumulate in your body and unless you move to Mars, and soon, there’s no escaping building your own supply of them.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Here are some required facts about flame retardants:

  • Flame retardants are used, well, to retard the onset of a fire. Chemically speaking, these substances are called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs.) The people who come most in contact with them are firefighters of course, but more and more studies point to all of us being exposed to them because of their ubiquitous presence around us.
  • PBDEs are found in mattresses, electronics, carpets, curtains, and sadly, even in children’s pajamas. They are found in the dust you have in your home (unless you live to vacuum, which you should not because life is too short for that.)  Regardless of your vacuuming habits though, gone are the days when dust bunnies were just a sign of a bohemian lifestyle or a rushed one. Now they’re the harbingers of health problems because of the chemicals they house within their fluffiness.
  • Chemicals used as flame retardants affect the reproductive system and the brain (they affect learning, memory, behavior and cause deficits in motor skills,) and they increase the risk of various types of cancer. In short, bad news.

I’ve written about these chemicals a while ago. I said then that the ones who get it bad are children. It’s true. Due to their growing bodies and propensity to jump on couches, crawl on the floors and take in more breaths than us adults, more chemicals per body weight enter their bodies and that is a sad reality. Not only flame retardants but many others.

Though many companies do plan to phase out flame retardants in some of their products, one has to wonder about history repeating itself. Many chemicals that were phased out due to their ill effects on human health, wildlife and the environment  (think DDT, PCBs,) have yet to disappear from our surroundings. In other words, a 30-year-old ban may have prevented more chemicals from being dumped upon us, but the ones already here are here to stay for a few more decades. Present-day chemicals such as flame retardants and others such as plasticizers are no different.

Some could argue that such is the price of comfortable, practical and safe goods. “Safe” according to the industry promoting and encouraging the use of these chemicals, not safe from an unbiased, evidence-based and responsible perspective. A terrible and sad case of abusing a concept, you’d have to agree.

It should not be this way. In a considerate world, people’s health and well-being should come before money.

Flame retardants and many invisible yet powerful chemicals we all breathe and eat today should be assessed at face value and given proper consideration.

The environment changes slowly and subtly, yet the manifestations of those changes are displayed dramatically, some more than others.

  • The number of children suffering from environmental allergies as well as asthma are increasing year after year; same for asthma. There are more and more people suffering from what it’s called multiple chemical sensitivity, a disease that is somewhat controversial due to a difficulty in establishing a clear connection between symptoms and causes. While the debate goes on, some people are affected by the same environment that leaves many of us unscathed (for now.) In the meantime, more public buildings adopt a fragrance-free policy in order to reduce the effects of exposure to fragrances and similar substances that many people are sensitive to.
  • More children than ever display signs of what is slowly becoming “yesterday news,” such as hyperactivity and ADHD, learning disabilities, and autism. Again, easy to overlook if you’re not in the thick of it. Not to say that all causes of above-mentioned issues are caused by the collective chemicals that keep adding to the environmental burden, but if multiple studies point to a clear link in some cases, or a putative connection, in others, perhaps it is wise and responsible to look at it objectively and take the appropriate measures.
  • Endocrine imbalances translate in infertility and other hormone-related health issues including breast cancer, a chronic affection that was deemed environmental in many cases.
  • Cancer attacks indiscriminately nowadays and that’s both sad and scary. Cancer used to be a disease of old age, but that is no longer the case. Also, cancer used to be associated with doing this or that (fill in with various “bad for you” activities such as smoking) but nowadays living seems to be associated with a moderate to high risk of cancer. It should not be like that.

The only big problem with all of these issues is that there are no big bad monsters with clearly defined contours for us to point at. Invisible chemicals used extensively and in high amounts to the financial benefit of industrial giants are not an easy enemy to defeat. Books have been written and environmental scientists are working hard at gathering evidence that the environment suffers and we will suffer with it but somehow we are a bunch of die-hards who are playing hard to get.

The environment is changing slowly and that gives us reason to say “maybe it’s not that bad after all…” Hardly a good thing. It makes it easier for naysayers to persist in denial, and it makes it easier for many to turn a blind eye. But it also makes it difficult to make changes down the road when we’ll realize the ill effects but by then we’ll be too far in the game and, from many an industry point of view, too costly to change anything.

So what are we to do? For one, become aware of what’s around us. Documentaries, independent studies and talks by people who put human health and the environment before anything else are a great starting point in becoming aware.

Imagine a world with a motto like: Proceed if safe for humans and all forms of life on Earth and the environment.

We come into this world with nothing and we leave like that too. We are thinking, empathetic beings who know right from wrong. I choose to believe that deep down most of us are like that.

Assessing and reassessing our priorities, our needs and wants and also, taking into consideration the needs of others is a matter of maturity. From sharing a home to inhabiting the (only) planet, everyone’s actions will becomes collective consequences. Today’s actions will shape everyone’s tomorrow. I think a good tomorrow would suit everyone.

What do you think?

Are We Failing Our Kids? (Part 2)

A couple of days ago I went to search for some new pajamas for the boys. They are growing you see. And pajamas stay the same and although I buy based on need and not want, I am facing some severe consumer dilemmas lately. The pajamas I looked at were all fire-retardants, it said so on the label. I cringed thinking how many parents buy pajamas believing that’s all they buy. Fire-retardant means that the fabric has been treated with chemicals that should delay the flaming process should there be a fire. Emphasis on should. They affect children’s health before they do any of that though. Artificial fabrics do catch on fire a lot easier than their natural counterparts (wool, cotton) so all of a sudden the obvious question budges ahead of the line… Which fiber is best? But that’s not what I’m writing about today. It’s the idea of allowing chemicals like that to even come near our children.

I find it outrageous that we allow such things to be worn by our children. You see, I am the declared enemy of “invisible” pollutants that kills us slowly but surely. Flame/fire-retardants are among them. You can’t see see them, you can’t smell them and you cannot get rid of them.

It’s a story that’s unfolding slowly and right under our noses but somehow we’re missing it: Chemicals that are being added to our food, or they come with out food, chemicals that are being added to the things we buy (flame retardants and antibacterial substances.)  A few years ago I wrote a piece about xenoestrogens and how ubiquitous they are and how they unmistakeably affect our health.

The saddest thing is that the most affected of all population groups are… Care to guess? Our children; the ones who are already born and the ones to be born, because many of these invisible enemies reach the fetus. Our children’s growing bodies take in everything, and their effects are partially known (neither are good, in fact far from it!) and the sad kicker is that many of these substances accumulate in their bodies and whether they wreak havoc now or later, we know for certain that they do wreak havoc.

Another piece I wrote not long ago on bisphenol A (BPA) reiterates the story that could almost sound boring if it wasn’t so scary: We rely on chemicals such as BPA that make our life more convenient, and convenience drives extremely aggressive campaigns that sell more of that convenience, but in turn we are giving away our health and our children’s. Talk about a dirty sell out. Sure the BPA was banned from baby products but there’s a two headed monster trying to bite my fingers as I try to write this: Traces of BPA were found in baby bottles even after the ban, and since the BPA was not banned from as many products as possible, well, the infamous substance can and will find a way to our babies. As for “safe” alternatives to the big bad BPA, it turned out that the replacement (BPS) has equally deleterious effects.

The brain and the endocrine system are most affected. Irony has it that the effects are not immediately seen, which makes the whole problem a lot harder to solve. Starting with enough of us believing that we do have a big fat hairy problem on our hands.

Take hyperactivity in children. Most of us know about this frustrating state of being that our children wallow in and us parents wallow with them. It’s rampant we’re being informed periodically. Yet here I am rummaging through many studies on my invisible enemies and the fact that I come across over and over again is that most of these substances affect the brain and one is by causing hyperactivity. A very bad joke indeed.

How do we tolerate this? How do we let our children touched by chemicals we do not necessarily need and if we really do need some of them, we definitely do not need them in the insane amounts they are used nowadays. Moreover, we need to make sure that the guidelines set by the government are set with our best interest in mind and not to support industry giants that think of anything but people’s health. I wish I could say that part is taken care of, that we are in good hands. But it really comes down to knowing and acting on that knowledge.

It’s not fair. It’s not fair to not have transparency about these issues just like it is not fair to have biased studies that show no ill effects when in fact they are there. It’s the products we let our children sit on, play with, sleep on, dress in, and eat from, and of course, the food they eat.

A recent study that was published in Nature showed the effects of GM corn consumption on rats. Their bodies were deformed by tumors and while the non-believers argued that the rats used in the study are prone to tumors, there was also a control group that had fewer and less prominent tumors. The safety studies done on GM foods by companies like Monsanto are short, very few and the conclusion is predictable: GM foods are safe to eat. As with chemicals, we won’t see the effects right away. Problem is, when the effects become visible it’s too late to intervene or in case of some countries (already happening) it will be impossible to know which crop is which. Russian roulette anyone? Children eat corn and corn-derived products. It should not become their punishment.

There is no labeling because we’re not there yet somehow. How to then? The equation has a major unknown term: how much is too much? That children are more affected than adults is no debate to me, but feel free to bring your counter-argument forth and I promise to revisit. In the meantime, I reserve the right to shed as much light as possible onto the subject. More to come in future posts.

Now if you are tempted to come to the conclusion that the solution is buying organic and such, well, I’d say it’s a start but it’s barely enough. We need to do more and while buying clean is part of it, it works in conjunction with the rest of it. Such as becoming aware of what is happening around us, and as a consequence, putting out a big flat NO when it comes to providing our children with adulterated products and foods. Wondering in what kind of disheveled state they’ll be inheriting the planet once we’re done with it? That’s where we should start. If there is no or less demand from consumers, production of deleterious (yet convenient) goods will slow down and sooner or later die. It can be done, I strongly believe that, although it involves playing ball with the big boys who often times kick hard and mercilessly. Power is in number though, we know that already. For teh sake of our children it’s all worth it. It’d be a shame to fail them, too high a price.

As for the pajamas, I will not settle for any fire-retardant ones, just like I will not settle for anti-bacterial pillows either (they were on sale by the very colorful pajamas)… But that’s another good story that I will leave for next time.

Now I will go make some popcorn for the boys. GM-free and butter-ful.

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