Toxic flame retardants in your home

by Catherine Haug, October 19, 2011

Many products in your home have, by law, been treated with flame retardants, or are made with synthetic materials that are, in themselves, flame retardant (such as some foam paddings). While this might sound like a good thing, most of these retardants are quite toxic.

Mattresses, sofas, upholstered chairs, cushions, pillows and many baby products are all heavily treated in this way.

Perhaps topping the list of toxic flame retardants are PBDE’s (polybrominated diphenyl ethers). In general, any chemical with bromide, chloride or fluoride derivatives is toxic; PBDE is toxic in much the same way as PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl). A prime reason for the toxicity of these halides is that they replace iodine in many of the body’s molecules, or bind to sites meant to bind iodine-containing hormones like thyroid hormone. They are also known to disrupt other hormones as well.

See the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to PBDEs for more, and how to avoid products containing/treated with these chemicals. From a sustainability perspective, the following (from the Guide) is the best advice of all:

“…opt for less flammable fabrics and materials, like leather, wool and cotton. Be aware that “natural” latex foam will also contain fire retardants.”


  1. Environmental Working Group:
  2. Mercola: The mattress which plays havoc with your hormones

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