Is a new flame retardant more toxic than thought?

Are we doing it again?  Switching from one harmful chemical to another?  We’ve started using chlorinated Tris as a flame retardant in foam products, despite the fact that it was removed from use in children’s pajamas more than 30 years ago.  It was removed because it was found to be a mutagen (mutates DNA) and probable human carcinogen. 

And it seems we’re adding another potentially harmful and persistent chemical to our environment.  We’ve been using decabromodiphenyl ethane (DBDPE) at an increasing rate in consumer elecronics to wire and cable insulation.  DBDPE can be used in place of deca-brominated diphenyl ether (deca-BDE, one of the PBDEs) in some products, such as televisions.   

According to the industry, it is believed that DBDPE “is unlikely to have significant biological activity.”  But recent research published in Environmental Science and Technology shows that conclusion may be incorrect.  Studies show that it is bioaccumulating in North American seagulls, certain Chinese Waterbirds and two kinds of pandas.  And, DBDPE is present in our environment.  Studies published since 2004 have shown the compound to be present in wastewater, sewage sludge, indoor air, outside air and household dust. 

In fact, DBDPE was found in the Environmental Working Group’s study of flame retardants un US homes.  That study found that toddlers and preschoolers had flame retardants present in their bodies at levels three times higher on average than their mothers. 

Is there a risk?  Well, DBDPE is similar in structure to deca-PBDE.  Deca-PBDE is a neurodevelopmental toxicant.  So the question is, is DBDPE toxic to development of the brain and nervous system?  Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemist at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, states “We know that Deca-BDE has the potential to be a neurodevelopmental toxicant, and, given the similar structure of DBDPE, one has to ask if they are goind to have similar toxicological endpoints.”  Further, she states, “if wildlife are accumulating Deca-BDE and DBDPE, I don’t see why humans wouldn’t accumulate it as well.”

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