Monday, March 16, 2009

What is Fluffy Laying On?

Once upon a time there was a little kitty named Midnight. Midnight loved to lounge about on the comfy, flame-retardant sofa that her master so lovingly provided for her. Day and night she had her spot, and no one dare invade her spot or think of shooing her off. Years went by as Midnight lounged in the sun while taking in toxic fumes that emanated from the fire-proof perch she called home. Of course, during those last years her master did have to become a bit of a nurse while injecting Midnight with fluids to keep her alive due to a hyperthyroid disease. As you can imagine she didn't like those needles anymore than you or I would like them. In the end, Midnight perished from the toxic chemicals found in his owners couch. That couch belonged to Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute and a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley's Department of Chemistry. Blum documented her story in an L.A. Times article titled "Did the State Kill My Cat?" It's a reasonable question considering that Blum's cat was tested by a veterinarian epidemiologist and was found to have among the highest levels of PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers - aka: bad chemicals) ever documented in animal research. This has led Blum to become a leader in defeating proposed standards that would keep PBDEs in our products.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers are organobromine compounds that are used as flame retardant and can be found in several products including furnishings, airplanes, textiles and building materials. The problem with PBDEs is the ubiquitous usage in household products that provide low-levels of exposure. Those low-levels add up to significant problems. PBDEs can be inhaled and ingested without an individual even realizing it and then are stored in fat tissue, breast milk, blood... Individuals who are most at risk are those working in the manufacturing plants that use PBDEs in their products. Some of the risks from exposure include asthma, kidney and liver problems, hormone disruption, and brain development disruption in children. It 'aint pretty, folks.

So, here's the biggest problem. California is the worst in the United States for high levels of PBDEs, being ten times higher than other states and 200 times higher than Europe. A law authored by assemblyman Mark Leno would require all seating, bedding, and furniture to comply with requirements that eliminate brominated or chlorinated flame retardants and be adequately labeled by January 1, 2010. One can only hope that we will begin to move in the direction of eliminating toxic and unnecessary chemicals from all household products. Until it is required of companies it is imperative that you do your homework on products and buy organic. Companies such as EcoChoices, Furnature, Lee Industries, and Cisco Brothers all produce lines of organic furnishings that do not contain PBDEs. Until then, keep Fluffy off the couch and work toward eliminating those PBDEs from your life.

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