Chemical Flame Retardants: Here, There and Everywhere

October 28th, 2014 by Sebastian

 

Chemical flame retardants: we at Naturepedic don’t like them or use them and we’ve worked to ensure our mattresses pass flammability standards without them.

Depending on the specific compound, flame retardants have been connected to neurobehavioral issues, developmental disorders, endocrine disruption, reproductive health problems, diabetes, and even cancer.

Additionally, many of these chemicals can sneak past waste water treatments and pollute our streams, rivers and lakes. For these reasons, ALL Naturepedic products are free of chemical flame retardants.

Recent initiatives in California and elsewhere are attempting to reduce the use of flame retardant chemicals in couches and other upholstered furniture. These efforts have not yet been extended to mattresses, however, which use different testing standards.

Chemical flame retardants get past treatment plants and into our rivers and lakes

Chemical flame retardants get past treatment plants and into our rivers and lakes

Nonetheless, did you know that chemical flame retardants can be found in a lot more everyday products than furniture and mattresses?

Cell phones and other consumer electronics, toys, carpeting, building materials, paints, even paper products (yes, paper) can all contain these problematic chemicals.

BizNGO, an organization promoting safer chemistries in business, estimates that four billion pounds of flame retardants are used globally by manufacturers each year. (For reference, this is about the equivalent weight of 1.25 million cars). Of that amount, two-thirds is used in plastics.

As BizNGO works to help companies reduce their chemical footprint, it asks companies to start at the beginning by asking: Is the flame retardant necessary?

As research grows regarding the effectiveness of flame retardants, flammability standards are changing and companies may find they no longer need to use them. If companies find they do require them, BizNGO encourages companies to use safer additives and polymers and even redesign products to reduce the need for toxic chemicals.

While the use of flame retardants is a complex issue, increasing public awareness is slowly leading some companies to seek safer alternatives. Apple and other electronics manufacturers, for example, have committed to build enclosures without brominated flame retardants. While plastics can contain a whole list of additives beyond brominated flame retardants, this is a move in the right direction.

Flame retardant chemicals can be found in many items around the house

Flame retardant chemicals can be found in many items around the house

The use of alternatives to dangerous flame retardants may ultimately be driven by consumer demand for safer products. Safer chemistries and products will arise from the interconnected efforts among informed consumers, companies, researchers, governments and organizations.

While consumers will likely never find an “ingredient” label on their new cellphone listing the flame retardants and chemical additives present in the plastic housing, through diligence and research (and a few letters to their government representatives) the people buying the products can ultimately effect change.

Here are just a few of our favorite sites for consumers wishing to research flame retardants and trends in safer products.

BizNGO

Center for Environmental Health

Environmental Work Group

HealthyStuff.org

Healthy Child Healthy World

Washington Toxics Coalition

Just Because You’re Asleep Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Paying Attention

October 21st, 2014 by Sebastian

 

Being in the business of sleep, we were fascinated by a new research study out of France that demonstrates a sleeping brain continues to both hear and process speech.

Although the study name, Inducing task-relevant responses to speech in the sleeping brain, may be sleep-inducing, the findings are much more captivating.

In the study, volunteers did simple word association tasks. In one experiment, subjects were verbally given a word and pushed a button with their right or left hand depending on if the word was categorized as either an animal or an object. A second experiment used the same button pushing, but subjects selected left or right based on if the words were actual words or pseudowords.push_button_zzz_rt

Working in Your Sleep

Easy stuff, particularly when awake. Test subjects were wired to an electroencephalography (EEG) device, which allowed researchers to monitor brain activity. The EEG could clearly differentiate between the brain’s signals for a right or left hand button push.

The amazing part, however, happened after subjects fell asleep. What the researchers found was that most of the subjects continued to respond appropriately to the verbal words, if only in their brains. The subjects didn’t physically push the buttons while asleep, of course, but their brains did. Even while asleep, a left side word caused the appropriate brain activity: activity on the right side of the brain (left hand activities activate the right side of the brain and vice versa).

In other words, not only were the subjects hearing the words in their sleep, but they were also processing them, correctly determining if they were animal or object and activating signals for an push_button_zzz_lftappropriate left or right hand response! Previous studies had shown that external tones and odors can influence sleep, but this was the first formal study looking at external stimuli that was associated with a task. Beyond sleep walking, could this be an example of sleep working?

While the study does not allow sweeping conclusions to be drawn, it shows we might be processing more stimuli in our sleep from the external world than realized.

Next time you say something is so easy you can even do it in your sleep, you might just be right.

The study was published in the Sept. 24, 2014 issue of the journal Current Biology. The lead researcher was S. Kouider.

Avoiding GMOs – what are your current options?

October 16th, 2014 by Sebastian

 

We believe consumers should have a right to know what they are eating and drinking (AND sleeping on!) In a previous post we mentioned our partnership with Just Label It, an organization advocating labeling of foods using Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). At this time, however, companies are not required to disclose GMOs. Nonetheless, consumers that wish to avoid GMOs do have a few tools available.

Buyers can look for:

USDA_LogoThe USDA Organic label. USDA certified organic food currently can not contain GMOs. While this logo can also apply to non-edible raw natural fibers and materials such as cotton, this label is not designed for finished textile products.

 

Non-GMO Project Verified label.nonGMO1 While this voluntary certification guarantees food does not contain GMOs, it does not mean food is organic, so food with this label can still be grown with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Also, because this verification is voluntary, the absence of the label does not mean an item necessarily contains GMOs. Smaller organic food operations may be unable to afford the certification process.

 

GOTS certified textiles and mattresses do NOT contain GMO cotton

GOTS label. While not for food but for textiles, apparel and mattresses, the GOTS label applies to cotton, one of the top five GMO crops in the world. GOTS does NOT permit the use of GMO cotton. That means all cotton in Naturepedic mattresses (which are independently certified to GOTS) is free of GMOs, and this goes for cotton fabrics as well as cotton filling. Any raw cotton we source is U.S. grown and certified USDA Organic.

 

 

While the above labels help people know whether their food or textiles were made with GMOs, we believe people have the right to know what’s in their food at all times. We invite you to join us and the other partners in Just Label It to ask the FDA to protect your right to know. Sign the online petition for GMO labeling at justlabelit.org/take-action.

 

No Escape: Study shows elevated levels of organophosphate flame retardants in children

October 14th, 2014 by Sebastian

A recent study looking at the commonly used class of flame retardants known as organophosphate flame retardants has shown an elevated presence of these chemicals in children when compared to their mothers. These flame retardants include TDCP, often referred to as Tris. (TDCP’s chemical designation is Tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) and is also called TDCIPP or TDCPP). TDCP is listed as a known carcinogen by the State of California and has been associated with altered hormone levels and diminished semen quality in men in previous studies.

Cover of No Escape  study from Environmental Working Group and Duke University The study was funded in part by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and conducted by researchers at Duke University and the EWG. Organophosphate flame retardants and components of the flame retardant Firemaster 550 (FM550) are the most commonly detected flame retardants in the polyurethane foam cushioning found in couches and baby products.  Previous research on Firemaster 550  (which contains the organophosphate flame retardant TPHP as well as as EH-TBB, another chemical of potential concern) found that perinatal exposure to Firemaster 550  resulted in early puberty, glucose sensitivity, and significant weight gain in rats.

While past research demonstrated a high level of exposure in adults to these commonly used flame retardants, virtually no research existed prior to this study looking at exposure to organophosphate flame retardants in children. Not surprisingly, this new study suggests children are also ubiquitously exposed to these chemicals on a daily basis.

The presence of organophosphate flame retardants  were determined through urine samples. Tests looked for associated metabolites, biomarkers left in the urine after the body had metabolized the flame retardants.  Because of the presence of organophosphate flame retardants in common household dust, scientists suspected they would find higher levels in children, which the study verified. This higher level was predicted because children tend to have more hand to mouth activity than adults yet lower levels of hand washing.

This study looked at a relatively small sampling: 21 paired mothers and children in New Jersey, with children ranging between one and five years of age. BDCIPP, the biomarker for TDCP, was found in the urine of all of the test subjects  but was found 4.9 times greater, on average, in the urine of the children than in their mothers.

While this study largely confirms what researchers already suspected, more research is needed on how this increased exposure may affect the health and development of our youngest citizens, who are regularly being exposed to these chemicals.

To read more about this important study, download the EWG report No Escape on the EWG website.

The Children & Nature Network Gets Kids Outdoors

October 13th, 2014 by Sebastian

Naturepedic’s focus is on health, wellness and vitality.  The Children & Nature Network (C&NN) also focuses on these areas, but in different ways. They work to get kids exploring, playing  outdoors and reconnecting with nature.

Co-founded by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder and The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age, C&NN has built an extensive global network of people and organizations working to get kids excited about nature. Recognizing that children simply don’t interact with the great outdoors as much as in the past, C&NN provides resources and inspiration for parents, educators and concerned citizens globally to help make nature a part of the everyday lives of children.

The C&NN website is a massive repository of information and resources serving a wide variety of needs. With excellent materials for individuals, the site also provides resources for those interested in creating grassroots advocacy groups. The site even has a section for pediatrician’s wishing to promote the mental and physical health benefits of outdoor activity.

The Children & Nature Network is not affiliated with Naturepedic. It’s just a great organization doing great things.

So get outside!Apr 20 2008 - VID00072

Just Label It Advocates for Your Right to Know If GMOs Are In Your Food

October 10th, 2014 by Sebastian

hi-res_label-dark-text

Naturepedic has joined more than 600 companies and organizations in becoming a partner with Just Label It, promoting the right to know when there are Genetically Engineered (GE) ingredients in your food.

More than two-thirds of processed foods in the U.S. contain GE ingredients. GE ingredients come from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), plants or animals that contain artificially inserted genetic material from other species that simply couldn’t happen in nature or through traditional breeding methods. Currently, there are no laws requiring labeling or disclosure of GE ingredients.

Just Label It advocates the labeling of GMOs and so do many, many others. GMO labeling has garnered support that is independent of political affiliation or gender, and more than 750,000 people have contacted the FDA on this issue.

Ready to take action? Sign an online petition asking the FDA to guarantee that GMOs are labeled. Visit http://justlabelit.org/take-action/ and add your voice in asking the FDA to protect your right to know.

———————————————————————————————-

The nine most common GMO crops are: 

  • Corn   
  • Soybeans   
  • Canola   
  • Cotton*   
  • Sugar Beets   
  • Alfalfa   
  • Hawaiian Papaya   
  • Zucchini   
  • Yellow Crookneck Squash 

 

 

 

* While cotton is one of the top three crops using GMOs, Naturepedic mattresses and accessories do not use GMO cotton. All Naturepedic mattresses are independently certified to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) which expressly forbids the use of GMO cotton. If you would like to purchase clothing, textiles or mattresses made WITHOUT GMO cotton, look for the GOTS logo.

Look for the GOTS logo for organic authenticity

Look for the GOTS logo for organic authenticity

California’s SB1019 Requires Disclosure of Flame Retardants in Furniture

October 9th, 2014 by Sebastian

 

 

On September 30, 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1019, an important step forward in helping consumers avoid toxic flame retardants in their furniture. The new law, which goes into effect in 2015, will require furniture sold in California to clearly disclose if chemical flame retardants were added in order to meet flammability standards.

The new law follows up last year’s update to California’s Technical Bulletin 117 (a 1975 standard which required furniture sold in California to pass flammability tests). The update, known as TB117-2013, changed the way flammability is tested on furniture, foregoing the previously required open flame tests on the inner cushion to instead requiring a cigarette smolder test conducted on the outer fabric.  Because the majority of furniture cushioning is made from highly flammable polyurethane foam, open flame tests basically guaranteed the addition of flame retardants … and often a substantial amount.

Unfortunately, TB117-2013 did not require companies to disclose the use flame retardants, nor did it forbid their use.  This meant that while furniture makers could pass tests without injecting flame retardants into the foam, consumers still had little way of knowing if the chemicals were actually there or not. Considering the issue from a liability angle, it is not unreasonable to assume many companies would continue to add the chemicals.

With this new ruling, furniture makers can still add chemical flame retardants, but they must disclose their use through a label. Given public concerns over potential health and developmental issues in relationship to flame retardants, it’s unlikely that consumers, when given a choice, would select a piece of furniture with potentially dangerous chemicals if they could select one without. While these flammability rulings are only for California, given the size of the California market, they frequently affect furniture makers throughout the entire U.S.

The bill as written requires disclosure of flame retardants used in all components of the furniture.  The actual wording of the bill defines “Added flame retardant chemicals” as flame retardant chemicals that are present in any covered product or component thereof at levels above 1,000 parts per million. This suggests that even flame retardants mixed into synthetic fabrics at the time of their manufacture will still need to be disclosed.

It is important to note that this ruling applies to furniture and furnishing but not mattresses, which must meet a different set of standards and still must meet open flame tests, which are required at the national level. Because of the frequent use of polyurethane foam, many mattresses contain flame retardant chemicals. Naturepedic mattresses, however, pass state and flammability standards without the use of chemical flame retardants, including fabric or other barriers that could these chemicals.

This is a hugely important step forward in removing toxic flame retardants from furniture. You can go here to read the actual wording of SB1019 .

Study Connects Phthalate Exposure in Moms, Asthma in Children

October 8th, 2014 by Sebastian

 

A study released by Columbia University has found a connection between mothers exposed during pregnancy to high levels of two commonly used phthalates, BBP and DBP (also referenced as BBzP and DnBP), and asthma in their children. While these two phthalates were banned in children’s products in 2009 by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), they are still used in many, many household products, automobile interiors, and fragrances.

asthma3

Asthma in the U.S. – children at risk

The number of cases of asthma has increased globally, but there is no consensus as to why. Earlier theories suspected increases in improved sanitation (the “hygiene hypothesis”) as a possibility, but although this might explain increases in allergies, it appears to not work in explaining asthma, according to a 2011 article in Scientific American.

Whatever the case, rates of asthma have increased, particularly in children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of people diagnosed with asthma grew by 4.3 million from 2001 to 2009, with African-American children seeing an almost 50% increase in asthma in that time frame.

A fact sheet provided by The American Lung Association (ALA) reveals that asthma affects 7.1 million children under 18 years in the U.S.. The ALA claims that asthma ranks as the third leading cause of hospitalization among children under the age of 15, with around 29% of all asthma hospital discharges in 2010 falling in that age bracket (even though only 20% of the U.S. population fell in that demographic). Asthma is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism.

 The Columbia University Study

The peer-reviewed study, published Sept. 17, 2014 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, was led by Robin Whyatt from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health in New York, part of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.  The study measured metabolites (biomarkers left after the body metabolizes the chemicals) of four phthalates in urine samples collected from 300 pregnant women in New York City, and then measured these metabolites in their children after they were born. The study builds on previous research of the same set of parent/child as part of a long term study.

mailmanStudy results suggest a “significant” association between concentrations of prenatal metabolites of the phthalates BBP and DBP and later childhood asthma, but did not find a correlation between exposure to the phthalates DEHP and DEP and asthma.

The percentages found in the study were high. Almost one third of the children, 94 of them to be exact, ages 5-11, developed physician-diagnosed asthma. An additional 60 children had a history of wheeze and other asthma-like symptoms without the asthma diagnosis.

The findings are significant and warrant additional study. At this point, researchers are unclear on the mechanisms for how the phthalates might increase the risk for asthma, although other studies suggest that inflammation and oxidative stress* may play a role.

In the U.S. in 2007, asthma cost about $56 billion in medical costs, lost work and school days, and early deaths.

 

*For a summary description of oxidative stress, check out Dr. Andrew Weil’s explanation on his website.

The Irony of Flame Retardants in Water: How These Chemicals Are Moving From Our Couches to Our Rivers

September 25th, 2014 by Sebastian

Naturepedic mattresses don’t contain chemical flame retardants, compounds with suspected connections to human health and developmental problems. Jillian Pritchard Cooke, an interior designer specializing in healthier designs and founder of Wellness Within Your Walls, has connected flame retardants to poor indoor air quality. But what about outdoor water quality?

Scientists have been finding chemical flame retardants, particularly PBDEs, in rivers and waterways throughout the world. The question has been why? A recently released peer-review study published Sept. 17, 2014 by the journal Environmental Science & Technology offers some answers.

Washington Toxics Coalition report - How Toxic Flame Retardants Pollute Our Waterways

Washington Toxics Coalition report – How Toxic Flame Retardants Pollute Our Waterways

The report was co-authored by Erika Schreder, science director with the Washington Toxics Coalition, and Mark J. La Guardia, senior environmental research scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The study examined 20 homes in the Vancouver and Longview areas of Washington state, testing for 22 chemical flame retardants in common household dust. The study found 21 chemical flame retardants in the dust in varying amounts, with 72% of total flame retardant mass made up of chlorinated organophosphate flame retardants, also known as tris. Tris is commonly found in polyurethane foam (used in mattresses, sofas, and other furniture cushioning) and is suspected of being an endocrine disruptor.

Of those 21 flame retardants, the study found that 18 could be detected in laundry wastewater. In other words, the dust appeared to be adhering to clothing and other fabrics there were then washed, with the chemicals then heading to wastewater treatment plants.

By comparing flame retardant levels in wastewater treatment plant influents to estimates based on laundry wastewater levels, the study found that laundry wastewater is likely the primary source of flame retardant chemicals in waterways.

Dust particles are small, so what volume levels of flame retardants are involved? Mass loadings to the Columbia River from each individual treatment plant showed up to approximately 251 pounds per year for the flame retardant chemical TCPP alone. The study found that a single treatment plant along the Columbia River released a combination of three tris flame retardants at an estimated 384 pounds a year, which the Washington Toxics Coalition estimates to be the equivalent of the flame retardant used to treat 1,088 couches.

With more than 300 wastewater treatment plants in Washington, that adds up (multiple 300 by 384 and you get 115,200 pounds per year as a rough estimate). Research suggests a connection with chlorinated organophosphates and endocrine disruption in fish, but the available research is extremely limited.

The bottom line is that chemical flame retardants commonly found in mattresses and other home furnishings as well as consumer electronics potentially impact more than just people. Studies of the potentially harmful health and developmental effects of these substances must also examine what they mean for the fish and wildlife in and along our rivers and lakes.

New Government Report on Phthalates Sends Mixed Messages

September 23rd, 2014 by Sebastian

Phthalates are chemical plasticizers used to make plastics like vinyl pliable or soft, and they are in almost everyone’s blood.  These chemicals are used in all types of products including children’s items like plastic teething rings, vinyl mattress covers and even baby lotions. This is a serious problem considering phthalates and phthalate substitutes are suspected of being connected to hormonal disruptions, asthma and even obesity. 

In mid-July, a panel overseen by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a final report on phthalates and phthalate substitutes. The CPSC is a relatively small federal agency tasked with overseeing that products are safe. (For example, they issued the regulations for crib design, including the banning of drop sides.)

The “Report on Phthalates and Phthalate Alternatives” does not call for a ban on all phthalates in children’s products.  Instead, it recommends which phthalates should be allowable and which are not.

Phthalates Are Born Drifters

One aspect of concern regarding phthalates is that they don’t stay put. Because phthalates don’t chemically bind to plastics, they leach out over time. Have you ever felt a once soft vinyl cover that has become cracked and crunchy? That’s because the phthalates have left the plastic and entered the environment.

Phthalates are scary drifters. (Photo from iStock from a painting by artist Yaroslav Gerzhedovich)

Phthalates are scary drifters.
(Photo from iStock from a painting by artist Yaroslav Gerzhedovich)

Phthalates and phthalate substitutes can get into children in multiple ways. They can be transferred from the mother to unborn babies. Babies can also take in phthalates through skin absorption, primarily from products like lotions.  Children can also inhale phthalates.  Since so many of the plastics used for baby products contain phthalates, most children are being exposed to phthalates on a daily basis.

What the New Report Recommends ( … or Get Ready for LOTS of Abbreviations!)

The new report recommends continuing a previous ban in toys and child care articles on three select phthalates you may have heard about: DEHP, DBP and BBP.  The report, however, recommends allowing two phthalates that were previously banned on an interim basis: DNOP and DIDP.

PHTA The report recommends against a third phthalate called DINP which was also previously banned on an interim basis. DINP, by the way, was added in 2013 to California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer (even though the chemical industry claimed there was inadequate proof.)

The report also suggests banning four new phthalates in children’s products. The report itself is almost a whopping 600 pages and examines many, many different chemicals.

What Does It All Mean?

It’s important to remember that this is only a set of recommendations and not law. The CPSC will decide whether to accept or reject all or some of the recommendations. A decision could be reached by January 2015.

Naturepedic simply does not use phthalates or phthalate substitutes in mattresses.  While GREENGUARD tests only for a select list of phthalates, our philosophy is to avoid those chemicals altogether, meaning we hold ourselves to an even higher standard than GREENGUARD does. No vinyl, no phthalates.  This simplifies things, and we don’t need a 600 page document to explain it.

Got some time on your hands? You can read the full report here.