Toxins in the body. It's the gift that keeps on giving. For example, in the past few months, there has been a barrage of studies and news releases focusing on the omnipresence of dangerous fire resistant chemicals in our homes and in our bodies. One study that was published a couple of weeks ago in the journal Environmental Science & Technology1 found that 85% of couches purchased in the United States between 1985 and 2010 contained chemical flame retardants. Another one of the new studies, led by researchers from UC Berkeley and Duke University, found toxic or untested flame retardants in most of the couches they examined from across the nation. This study also found that hazardous and potentially hazardous chemicals from couches and other products had made their way into dust that pervaded 13 of 16 homes tested in Northern California. Both studies turned up substances that become toxins in the body after being inhaled or ingested and are linked to cancer, changes in DNA, hormone disruption, lowered IQ, decreased fertility, hyperactivity, and other serious health issues.
This brings to mind two issues that we will explore in this newsletter.
- You can thank California for these toxins in the body. It's yet one more example of a well intentioned but badly written law run amok.
- It's also a perfect example of why we regularly need to body cleanse. In today's world, exposure to toxins is simply inescapable.
But first, let's take a look at the studies and the problems they highlight.
Toxic Flame Retardants in Furniture
As mentioned, the studies revealed that toxic or untested flame retardants were found in most of the couches examined no matter where they came from across the country. The most prevalent flame-retardant toxins found were:
- PBDEs--polybrominated diphenyl ethers, aka penta. PBDE mixtures were phased out of use as a flame retardant beginning in 2005 as PBDEs were linked to developmental and neurological problems in children. Unfortunately, because couches are kept in homes for many years, a large number of couches currently in homes still contain this toxic chemical and are still sloughing it off and harming people.
- TDCPP --tris (1-3-dichloroisopropyl) phosphate. This is a suspected human carcinogen, which is why manufacturers voluntarily removed it from children's pajamas more than thirty years ago. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for furniture manufacturers. It is now the most common flame retardant used in furniture. Incidentally, California lists tris as a known carcinogen.
- And two newer retardants:
- In 2003, Firemaster 550 was touted as a problem-free alternative to PBDEs. In a press release, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency praised the withdrawal of PBDE/penta as a "responsible action" and promised that the new flame retardant had none of the problems of the old one.2 The EPA reassured us that unlike penta, Firemaster 550 would neither stick around in the environment nor build up in people and wildlife. Surprise, surprise! All such reassurances were given ad lib--with no studies to support them. Now, a decade later, studies are beginning to appear -- and they are not reassuring. As it turns out, Firemaster 550 is a proven endocrine disruptor. Even worse, according to the Chicago Tribune, not everyone at the EPA believed that initial rosy public assessment.3 Documents obtained by the Tribune show that scientists within the agency were deeply skeptical about the safety of Firemaster 550, predicting that its chemical ingredients would indeed escape into the environment and break down into byproducts that would pose lasting health hazards -- which is exactly what has happened.
- TBPP-- tris (4-butylphenyl) phosphate (TBPP), which according to the study, has not been reported to be used as a flame retardant until now.
The problem, as the studies showed, is not so much that the toxic chemicals are "in" the upholstered furniture; it's that they don't stay there. As we have known for some time, they migrate into house dust.4 Humans and pets then ingest this dust, steadily accumulating these toxins in the body until they severely compromise their health. Ingestion of dust can lead to almost 100-fold higher exposure than "average" for a toddler. And unfortunately for toddlers, a good whole body cleanse is not really an option.
The researchers tested chunks of foam from 102 sofas that were purchased between 1985 and 2010 throughout all parts of the country. Toxic or untested flame retardants were found in 85 percent of the couches overall and in every couch bought in California since 2005. This means that anyone who wants a sofa will find it virtually impossible to avoid these chemicals. "You really do not have a choice to buy furniture without flame retardants anywhere in the country," said Arlene Blum, co-lead author of the couch study. Also, there is no easy way to know what flame retardants are used, if any, because California law does not require that furniture be labeled for flame retardants.
As we've already mentioned, despite the fact that PBDEs were phased out starting in 2005, the researchers nevertheless found high levels of PBDEs in their samples. This is due to the fact that sofas tend to be long term investments and remain in use for many years. Thus, many "pre-ban" sofas are still in use. Making the problem even worse is the fact that, unless you actively detox, penta tends to remain in humans for up to 12 years after exposure.
In summarizing their findings, the researchers expressed their concerns about the dangers of simply replacing one chemical found to be dangerous after a number of years in general use with a brand new "untested" chemical whose only virtue is that its harmful effects have not yet been discovered -- standard operating procedure in the manufacturing industry. Or as stated in a second study also published on November 28th in Environmental Science & Technology, "Results highlight the evolving nature of FR [flame retardant] exposures and suggest that manufacturers continue to use hazardous chemicals and replace chemicals of concern with chemicals with uncharacterized toxicity."5 Specifically, this second study, led by Silent Spring research scientist Robin E. Dodson, found that dust from most of the California homes they tested in 2006 and again in 2011 had levels of at least one flame retardant chemical that exceeded federal health guidelines.
Not surprisingly, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) responded to the studies by defending flame retardants, saying that they can prevent fires from starting and buy valuable escape time if a fire breaks out.6 They further stated, "There is no data in this study that indicate that the levels of flame retardants found would cause any human health problems." And finally, they try and reassure us by stating that flame retardants, like all chemicals, are subject to review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and national regulators around the globe.
Unfortunately, they are wrong on all counts. First, according to a test commissioned by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, flame retardants in upholstery foam that met TB 117 standards produced mixed results at best.7 Although flame retardants limited fire size and the time it took to reach peak fire size, "the fire-retardant foams did not offer a practically significantly greater level of open flame safety than did the untreated foams." Even worse, as determined by visibility measurements in the same study, slower burning fires produced higher levels of smoke -- and smoke inhalation is the primary cause of death in house fires, not burns.8 Second, the ACC's statement that there is no data to indicate that flame retardants actually harm people at normal exposure levels is simply not true. When tested in animals, fire retardant chemicals, even at very low doses, can cause endocrine disruption, thyroid disorders, cancer, and developmental, reproductive, and neurological problems such as learning impairment and attention deficit disorder. And evidence of harm to humans is steadily increasing. The only thing open to question is the degree of harm these chemicals cause. And third: of the 100,000 or so industrial chemicals in widespread use in the U.S., the EPA requires testing for only about 200. The other 99,000+ are grandfathered in…their safety untested.
California Laws Gone Wild
In 1975, with the implementation of Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117),9 California became the first state to set flammability requirements for upholstered furniture. However, because of the size of the market in California, most furniture manufacturers make all their furniture, wherever it is sold, to match California specifications. Specifically, TB 117 requires upholstered furniture padding to withstand 12 seconds of an open flame, as provided by a localized Bunsen burner in a controlled lab environment without spreading the flame. (Keep in mind that this has very little to do with a real life fire in which the fabric around the padding, once it catches fire, is likely to engulf the entire cushion in flames in one fell swoop.)
Before continuing, let me be perfectly clear: I am not against the intent of the law. Writing laws to prevent people from dying in fires is not a bad thing. And I have no problem with governments "intruding" into our lives by writing laws to make products that we buy and use safer. The problem is that badly written laws often provide minimal benefits, while at the same time inflicting us with unintended consequences. How do bad laws get written?
Sometimes they come from well intentioned people focused on a single agenda -- to the exclusion of all else. Unfortunately, that's not what happened here. Instead, TB 117 was the result of special interest groups who figured out how to translate a popular fear into legislative support -- and ultimately into money in the bank. As revealed in an article last May in the Chicago Tribune, several decades ago, cigarette manufacturers had a problem that "involved tragic deaths and bad publicity, but it had nothing to do with cancer. It had to do with house fires. Smoldering cigarettes were sparking fires and killing people."10 The cigarette manufacturers insisted they couldn't make a fire-safe cigarette that would still appeal to smokers and instead promoted flame retardant furniture -- "shifting attention to the couches and chairs that were going up in flames." Big Tobacco first won over the fire marshals by placing their own man, Peter Sparber, a former tobacco executive, on the inside of the National Association of State Fire Marshals--a group, incidentally, he actually helped organize. Sparber then guided the fire marshals in their efforts to pass laws requiring flame retardants in furniture as a better way to reduce the fire hazards of cigarette smoking. TB 117 was the direct result of that lobbying effort.
Then two things happened. First: as the result of the multibillion-dollar court settlement between the tobacco industry and state attorneys general, big tobacco was forced to shut down their lobbying efforts on behalf of fire retardant chemicals. And second: the truth about the dangers of fire retardants started to leak out. Stunningly, the fire marshals organization continued promoting flame retardant products even after it was clear that the chemicals inside were escaping, settling in dust, and winding up in the bodies of babies and adults worldwide. The marshals continued to push flame retardants even after they were linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems, and impaired fertility. How did that happen?
When big tobacco's efforts on behalf of flame retardants were shut down, their inside man, Peter Sparber, created a new organization called the Citizens for Fire Safety Institute -- now funded by the world's major manufacturers of flame retardants. Quite simply, the chemical companies were making huge amounts of money providing all of these fire retardants and wanted to keep the spigot from being turned off. And they were successful for years. Ultimately, word about their involvement got out--just a few months ago, in fact--and Albemarle Corp., Chemtura Corp. and ICL Industrial Products issued a statement announcing that the companies had severed their relationships with the Citizens for Fire Safety Institute. The companies then shifted their outside lobbying and advocacy efforts to the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry's chief trade group. If the ACC sounds familiar, it should. We heard from their PR team earlier in this newsletter dissing the studies that we've been talking about in this newsletter. According to an October report by Common Cause, from 2005 to 2012, the chemical industry has given $39 million to candidates for federal office and spent $333 million on lobbying at the federal level in a successful campaign to prevent Congress from updating the Toxic Substances Control Act.11
In any case, studies have shown that Californians have among the highest levels of flame retardants in their bodies compared to people living anywhere else in the world. Thank you very much, Peter Sparber and the California legislature! California is now looking to update TB 117 to increase fire safety without the use of toxic flame retardant chemicals -- possibly sometime in 2013. If and when it happens, it will be a day late and a decade short. Levels of flame-retardant chemicals in California children are among the world's highest, according to 2010 studies.12,13 Even worse, a pilot study published last year found that women in California had the highest levels reported to date of PBDE flame retardants and their breakdown products (hydroxylated metabolites) among pregnant women worldwide.14 The study also found an association between PBDE exposures and thyroid hormone disruption. And keep in mind that a state ban on two widely used PBDEs was fully in place by 2008. But as we've already explained, the chemicals persist in products still used today.
What Can You Do While You're Waiting for Laws to be Rewritten
Aside from being freaked out about flame retardant chemicals in your home and body, what constructive conclusions can you walk away with from these studies? The simplest is that once again, as we have been saying for several decades now, toxins are inescapable. To paraphrase Buffalo Springfield: no matter where you live, no matter how clean a lifestyle you adopt, "toxins strike deep. Into your life they will creep."
In 2006, when we looked at Toxic Nation: A Report on Pollution in Canadians. The researchers in that study found that children, as young as 10, were found to have excessive amounts of toxic chemicals in their bodies (i.e. stain repellents, flame retardants, heavy metals, organophosphates, insecticide metabolites, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) even when raised by health conscious parents…and even when living hundreds of miles from the sources of said pollution. On average, each child in the study tested positive for an average of twenty-five known toxins. The study even identified children who were contaminated with toxins that had been banned years before they were born! With over 100,000 untested industrial chemicals circulating in our environment, toxins are simply inescapable for anyone living on planet earth. The bottom line is that if you are alive today, you must detoxify regularly. But beyond colon cleansing, what should you do?
Colon cleansing is quite the rage now, with colon-cleansing products on store shelves and on the Internet. Many of these products are worthless (really nothing more than expensive fiber formulas), but a sizeable number are actually quite good. That said, 99% of these products--even the good ones--miss the point. Colon cleansing is not the end of detoxing--it's merely the first step. Colon cleansing, as we've previously discussed on this site, is required to clean out the elimination channels so that toxins released from the other forms of detoxification have a clear path out of the body. But the major work when doing a body cleanse, the dramatic improvements in health that most people are looking for, come more from those other detoxes than from colon cleansing. What "other" detoxes are we talking about?
- The liver/gallbladder cleanse helps flush gallstones, sludge, toxic waste and chemicals, and cholesterol from the liver and gallbladder while helping improve liver performance and regenerating damaged liver tissue. Also, the liver is one of the two primary locations where you'll find toxic chemicals such as fire retardants stored. Liver detoxing can flush those out too.
- The kidney flush is designed to get rid of kidney sludge and stones (as well as gallstones and pancreatic sludge), clear infection and inflammation from the kidneys, and help stimulate renal tissue.
- The blood cleanse optimizes blood activity, eliminates any viral or bacterial contamination, and helps the body eliminate any malignant cells.
- A heavy metal detox removes heavy metals from the body, thereby eliminating a major factor in the onset of cardiovascular problems, cancer, and the overall degradation of health.
- Balancing pH improves oxygen availability and the functioning of the immune system. An overall acidic pH in body tissue is a major contributing factor in the onset of many major diseases.
- Juice fasting clears out old damaged tissue, cells (especially fat cells, the other primary storage area for toxic chemicals in the body, along with the liver) and encourages the growth of new healthy tissue.
For more on detoxing, check out the Full Body Detox Program.
A Final Thought--"Not I," said the Little Red Hen
One of the biggest problems in dealing with the toxicity associated with 100,000 untested industrial chemicals floating about in the environment is that it's almost impossible to tell what's doing what. When disturbing evidence appears in the news about the probable toxicity of some chemical in the environment, each manufacturer can point to someone else, and say, "Not I." Making it even more difficult is the fact that it may indeed not be one chemical alone causing the problem -- but two or more in combination. And how are you ever going to identify such a combination among 100,000 possible culprits? The number of combinations is beyond counting. And again, each manufacturer can hide behind the ambiguity and say, "Not I."
Nevertheless, the evidence of toxicity continues to pile up -- even if specific culprits cannot be named. For example, on December 4th, the journal Human Reproduction published the results of a study that found that the sperm count of French men fell by an astounding one third between 1989 and 2005.15 As the researchers said, "This constitutes a serious public health warning."
As Prof Richard Sharpe, from the University of Edinburgh, said, "Something in our modern lifestyle--diet or environment like chemical exposure--is causing this. We still do not know which are the most important factors, but perhaps the most likely is a combination, a double whammy of changes, such as a high-fat diet combined with increased environmental chemical exposures."
Once again, the message is stunningly clear: regular detoxing is necessary to clean out both known and unknown toxins. And again, we're not talking about just colon cleansing, but full body detoxing with periodic juice fasting. In the meantime, maybe we can all just replace our sofas with tatami mats and live on the floor, traditional Japanese style…or not.
On a more practical note, the important thing to understand is that, for most people, living in the world means you're going to end up with toxins in your body. That's a given; there's no getting around it. But how you deal with those toxins is entirely up to you.
- 1. Stapleton, Heather M., Sharma, Smriti, Getzinger, Gordon, et al. "Novel and High Volume Use Flame Retardants in US Couches Reflective of the 2005 PentaBDE Phase Out." Environ. Sci. Technol. 2012/11/28. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es303471d
- 2. News Release. "Brominated Flame Retardants To Be Voluntarily Phased Out ." EPA. 3 Nov 2003. http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/26f9f23c42cd007d85256dd4005525d2?OpenDocument
- 3. Michael Hawthorne. "Toxic Roulette." Chicago Tribune May 10, 2012. (Accessed 6 Dec 2012.) http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/flames/ct-met-flames-regulators-20120510,0,6880244,full.story
- 4. Jones-Otazo HA, Clarke JP, Diamond ML, Archbold JA, et al. "Is house dust the missing exposure pathway for PBDEs? An analysis of the urban fate and human exposure to PBDEs." Environ Sci Technol. 2005 Jul 15;39(14):5121-30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16082939
- 5. Robin E. Dodson, Laura J. Perovich, Adrian Covaci, et al. "After the PBDE Phase-Out: A Broad Suite of Flame Retardants in Repeat House Dust Samples from California. Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP. 28 Nov 2012. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es303879n
- 6. Rob Neilley. "Once Again Fear Mongering Catches Fire, Spreads Fast." In the hopper. 29 Nov 2012. (Accessed 7 Dec 2012.) http://www.inthehopper.org/industry-news/how-fear-mongering-catches-fire-spreads-fast/
- 7. Shivani Mehta, "Upholstered Furniture Full Scale Chair Tests -- Open Flame Ignition Results and Analysis. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. 9 May 2012. (Accessed 7 Dec 2012.) http://www.cpsc.gov/library/foia/foia12/os/openflame.pdf
- 8. Christopher P Holstege, MD. "Smoke Inhalation." emedicinehealth. (Accessed 7 Dec 2012.) http://www.emedicinehealth.com/smoke_inhalation/article_em.htm
- 9. Technical Bulletin 117. State of California Department of Consumer Affairs (Accessed 6 Dec 2012.) http://www.bhfti.ca.gov/industry/117.pdf
- 10. Patricia Callahan, Sam Roe. "Big Tobacco wins fire marshals as allies in flame retardant push." Chicago Tribune. 8 May 2012. (Accessed 8 Dec 2012. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/flames/ct-met-flames-tobacco-20120508,0,3332088.story
- 11. "Toxic Spending." Common Cause. 12 October 2012. (Accessed 8 Dec 2012.) http://www.commoncause.org/atf/cf/%7BFB3C17E2-CDD1-4DF6-92BE-BD4429893665%7D/COMMONCAUSE_TOXICSPENDING-10%2023%20FINAL.PDF
- 12. Rose, M, DH Bennett, A Bergman, B Fangstrom, IN Pessah and I Hertz-Picciotto. "PBDEs in 2- 5-year-old children from California and associations with diet and indoor environment." Environ. Sci. Technol., 2010, 44 (7), pp 2648--2653. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es903240g
- 13. Windham, GC, SM Pinney, A Sjodin, R Lum, RS Jones, LL Needham, FM Biro, RA Hiatt and LH Kushi. "Body burdens of brominated flame retardants and other persistent organo-halogenated compounds and their descriptors in U.S. girls." Environmental Research. Volume 110, Issue 3, April 2010, Pages 251--257. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2010.01.004
- 14. Ami R. Zota, June-Soo Park, Yunzhu Wang,Tracey J. Woodruff, et al. "Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers, Hydroxylated Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers, and Measures of Thyroid Function in Second Trimester Pregnant Women in California." Environ. Sci. Technol., 2011, 45 (18), pp 7896--7905. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es200422b
- 15. M. Rolland, J. Le Moal1, V. Wagner, D. Royère, J. De Mouzon. "Decline in semen concentration and morphology in a sample of 26 609 men close to general population between 1989 and 2005 in France." Hum. Reprod. December 2012 27 (12). http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/12/02/humrep.des415.full.pdf+html