Flame retardants are in many products around us, both in and out of the home, but there is much concern over their health effects on humans. Older flame retardants (PBDEs) were phased out by 2013, but it turns out that the newer replacements (TBB and TBPH, including Firemaster 550) also get into people and also have negative health effects. So it shouldn't be a surprise that every single toddler tested in a study in New York City showed evidence of flame retardants on their hands (both the old kind and newer replacements), and that they had more on their hands than their mothers. Flame retardants were also found in all house dust samples. Since they are linked to many negative health effects, you really, really want to minimize the amounts in your body.
More and more research is finding health problems with flame retardants because they are "not chemically bound" to the products in which they are used - thus they escape over time. and get into us via the skin (dermal), inhalation (from dust), and ingestion (from certain foods and dust on our fingers). And because flame retardants are persistant, they bioaccumulate (they build up over time). They can be measured in our urine and blood. Evidence suggests that flame retardants may be endocrine disruptors, carcinogenic, alter hormone levels, decrease semen quality in men, thyoid disruptors, and act as developmental neurotoxicants (when developing fetus is exposed during pregnancy) so that children have lowered IQ and more hyperactivity behaviors.
Where are flame retardants found? All around us, and in us. They are so hard to avoid because they're in electronic goods, in upholstered furniture, polyurethane foam, carpet pads, some textiles, the foam in baby items (car seats, bumpers, crib mattresses, strollers,nursing pillows, etc.), house dust, building insulation, and on and on. What to do? Wash hands before eating. Try to use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. Try to avoid products that say they contain "flame retardants". Only buy upholstered furniture with tags that say they are flame retardant free. From Science Daily:
NYC toddlers exposed to potentially harmful flame retardants
Evidence of potentially harmful flame retardants on the hands and in the homes of 100 percent of a sample of New York City mothers and toddlers has been uncovered by researchers. The study also found that on average toddlers in New York City had higher levels of common flame-retardants on their hands compared to their mothers.
Researchers at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH) within the Mailman School of Public Health report evidence of potentially harmful flame retardants on the hands and in the homes of 100 percent of a sample of New York City mothers and toddlers. The study also found that on average toddlers in New York City had higher levels of common flame-retardants on their hands compared to their mothers. The Center's previous research has linked early life exposure to a common class of flame-retardants called PBDEs with attention problems and lower scores on tests of mental and physical development in children.
Beginning in the 1970s, manufacturers added PBDEs, persistent brominated flame-retardants, to couches, textiles, electronics and other consumer products to comply with flammability standards. They began phasing out PBDEs in 2004 and started using newer alternative flame-retardants, including TBB and TBPH, which are components of the commercial mixture Firemaster 550®. TBB and TBPH are brominated flame retardants for which little is known about their health effects in humans, though they have been linked to reduced fertility and endocrine disruption in animal models.
Researchers visited the homes of 25 mother-child pairs enrolled in the CCCEH Sibling-Hermanos birth cohort, which began in 2008. When children were 3 years old, dust was collected from their homes and hand wipes were collected from the mother and child; these samples were analyzed for flame retardant compounds....Results are consistent with other studies, which demonstrate that toddlers tend to have higher exposure to flame retardants when compared with adults, likely because of the amount of time they spend on the floor.