Flame Retardant Chemicals Contaminate over 150 Species Worldwide
A new map shows that over 150 species of wildlife, distributed across every continent, are contaminated with flame retardant chemicals.
Researchers from Green Science Policy compiled data from over two decades of peer-reviewed scientific studies on flame retardants, and produced an interactive map showing the types of animals that have been contaminated with these chemicals, and their locations.
Wildlife that has been polluted with flame retardants includes red pandas, polar bears, killer whales, loggerhead turtles, chimpanzees and American kestrels, amongst many more.
Studies included in the map reveal that this pollution may be contributing to population declines and is associated with negative health impacts. Examples of these impacts include: changes in thyroid hormone levels in polar bears, altered heart and brain mass in American kestrels, and negative impacts on the reproductive and immune systems in killer whales.
The researchers note that only a subset of animals in a few regions have been studied for specific flame retardants and that their analysis only includes a selection of studies, which suggests the effects may be even more widespread than those displayed in the map.
Flame retardants are commonly used in products such as sofas, mattresses, electronic products, carpets, building materials and car seats. They are added to products in order to slow down the spread of fires.
Some flame retardants are highly persistent meaning they do not break down in the environment, and many can bioaccumulate (build-up) in the bodies of wildlife and humans. Certain flame retardants are also known to cause cancer, disrupt the normal functioning of the hormone system, or have negative impacts on brain development.
Recently, studies have emerged questioning the effectiveness of flame retardants for reducing fire-related deaths. This is due in part to the fact that flame retardants can increase smoke toxicity, and toxic smoke inhalation can increase the likelihood of deaths during house fires.
CHEM Trust responded to the European Chemical Agency’s consultation on its Regulatory Strategy for flame retardants, calling for broad and rapid action on flame retardant chemicals. We also responded to the UK consultation on fire safety of domestic upholstered furniture, highlighting the health risks associated with flame retardant exposure and calling for a reduction in our reliance on flame retardants in furniture.