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February 2022: Study Invite: Are there flame retardants in your car?

In this edition:

I hope you are keeping well and having a good winter. I have been enjoying cross-country skiing in the Sierras and hiking in the green Berkeley Hills where I continue to have as many of my business and social meetings as possible.

I also continue to be amazed at the extraordinary persistence of the flame retardant chlorinated tris (TDCPP). It is indeed the Comeback Kid of Chemicals! Thirty years after my research contributed to the removal of this same cancer-causing and neurotoxic flame retardant from children’s pajamas in the 1970s, I learned that it was still used in other consumer products and founded the Green Science Policy Institute in 2008. Our research on flame retardants in baby products and furniture with Heather Stapleton at Duke and policy work contributed to stopping the use of tris in consumer products in 2012.

An unwanted passenger in your car?

And now I am surprised and sorry to find out that chlorinated tris is still commonly used in cars. The fire safety benefit is questionable, while auto workers and much of our population continue to be exposed to this harmful chemical. Our Institute is once again collaborating with Heather Stapleton on a new research study to learn more about the flame retardants in cars.

Would you like to join our study and find out if there is chlorinated tris or other harmful flame retardants in your car? Please see our study invitation below and consider this opportunity to contribute to important research on the use of these problematic chemicals in cars. We would especially appreciate having our friends and supporters participate. After we publish our results, we plan to work with car manufacturers and government regulators towards cars that are both fire-safe and healthier—without harmful flame retardants.

Back in the 1970s, I also published an article stating that flame retardants like tris were not needed in camping and mountaineering tents and should not be required. However, they are still used today in most wilderness and children’s play tents. You can learn more about their being hopefully on their way out from our guest blog.

While these projects are taking us back to preventing harm from flame retardants, we continue to work to reduce the use of PFAS in products. Last month I spoke on a panel about PFAS in food packaging hosted by the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition. You can watch the full webinar here to get up-to-date information on progress in reducing PFAS in food-contact materials.

Unfortunately, PFAS don’t just end up in packaged food. The Washington Post recently published an excellent article on how PFAS contamination of Lake Superior’s fish is impacting local Indigenous tribes who depend on fishing for their food.


PFAS in San Francisco Bay fish

The problem is similar here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some months ago, I suggested to Clean Water Action (CWA) and the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI) that they convene a meeting on PFAS contamination of San Francisco Bay fish.

Last week I was honored to be the opening speaker at their ground-breaking meeting, co-sponsored by the California Indian Environmental Alliance, about PFAS in San Francisco bay fish with speakers from local communities who rely on these fish for their food and traditions. During this informative and moving forum, I learned a lot about racial injustice, as well as PFAS science, and hope our Institute can find ways to be helpful.

Kind regards,

Arlene and the Green Science Policy Team

Study Invite: Are There Flame Retardants in Your Car?

Learn about the flame retardants in your car

Those of you who have received our newsletter for years know that we often collaborate with scientists in academia to conduct research on flame retardants or other chemicals. Now, Duke University and our Institute are launching a study to learn more about the current use of flame retardants in cars. We are looking for study participants within the United States to place a small sampler in their car for 1 week. If you have a vehicle with model year 2015 or later and would like to participate in our study or learn more, please fill out this form or contact [email protected]. Participants will receive a sampling kit including detailed instructions. After returning the samples, you will receive a delicious thank you gift as compensation for your time. Please sign up as soon as possible as we have a limited number of places in our study.

Toxic Flame Retardants in Tents

Are there flame retardants in your tent?

By Lydia Jahl

Did you know that California’s tent flammability regulations have not been updated since 1975? Many decades ago, tents were often made of highly flammable waxed canvas, resulting in some serious tent fires. But now, most backpacking and camping tents are made of lightweight synthetic materials that are less flammable, so that tent fires resulting in injury are vanishingly rare.

Unfortunately, California’s outdated tent flammability regulations still result in flame retardants being added to camping tents across North America – including to children’s play tents. These harmful chemicals migrate out of tent materials and can expose campers and children to potentially increased risks of cancer, neurological, and reproductive harm, without significantly increasing fire safety. In fact, tent materials can have the same harmful flame retardant – chlorinated tris – that was removed from baby pajamas in the 1970s and that we will be testing for in cars.

Scientific studies in the Stapleton lab in 2014 and 2016 found that skin exposure to flame retardants occurs from handling camping tents and that inhalation exposure will likely occur while inside a tent. This research found that flame retardant levels measured on hand wipes were significantly higher post-tent setup compared to pre-setup, and in the case of chlorinated tris, levels were 29 times higher post-setup. The chemicals were also detected at measurable concentrations in the air inside of treated tents.

The good news is that tent retailers, manufacturers, and the Outdoor Industry Association are working to change standards and remove the need for unnecessary and potentially toxic flame retardants in camping tents. They have developed an updated standard that can be met without flame retardant chemicals. However, the support of California’s fire marshal or changes to state legislation are needed before this improved standard can be implemented.

Click here to learn more from a guest blog by Neal Cohen, a product safety attorney who works with leading tent manufacturers and retailers on sustainability and safety issues.

How Plastics Make Us Fat

Obesity and plastics?

By Carol Kwiatkowski

What do genetics, diet, exercise, and plastic have in common? They all are factors in the obesity pandemic, which has led to a tripling of the number of obese people worldwide since 1975 and more than 41 million children under five being overweight or obese. Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology recently published a paper identifying which types of plastic contained “metabolism disrupting chemicals” or MDCs.

The study is unique in that the authors did not look at the specific plastic chemicals known to be MDCs, such as bisphenols and phthalates - members of our Six Classes of chemicals of concern. Instead, they sampled 34 everyday plastic products, assessing the metabolic effects of the entire product including chemicals that could not be individually identified.

Eleven of the products induced adipogenesis (fat cell development). Of the eight types of plastics sampled, polyurethane (PUR) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) were the most potent obesogens, while polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and polylactic acid (PLA) were consistently inactive. The authors concluded that “dailyuse plastics contain potent mixtures of metabolism disrupting chemicals and can, therefore, be a relevant, yet underestimated, environmental factor contributing to obesity.”

Our advice? Opt for products made out of non-plastic materials and avoid products with recycling code 3 (PVC).

Waterproof, Stain-Resistant, & Toxic: Forever Chemicals Identified in Dozens of Products

See our list of PFAS-free jackets, shoes, and more

By Jonas LaPier

A recently released a report by Toxic Free Future shows that PFAS are used in a variety of products, especially those labeled as waterproof or stain resistant. This is not surprising as PFAS is very good at repelling water and oils. Unfortunately, PFAS compounds never degrade in the environment, are in the blood of nearly every American, and are linked with health harm.

Toxic Free Future found that 72% of the products they tested advertised as stain or water resistant contained PFAS and there was at least one PFAS-containing product from each of the ten retailers they purchased from.

The report also shows that long-chain PFAS, which were believed to have been phased out of production, are still found in many products. After long-chain PFAS were phased out due to their persistence and toxicity, they were replaced with short-chain PFAS. The scientific community agrees that short-chain PFAS are not safe alternatives (see the Madrid Statement).

However, some good news is that researchers identified stain- and water-resistant products without PFAS. We maintain a list of such better alternatives on our PFAS-Free Page.

You can read the new report and also learn more about how PFAS are used in products and how you can avoid them.


March 24, 2022 (virtual):

PFAS Global 2022 Conference hosted by Chemical Watch

Expert speakers from around the world will present the latest regulatory and scientific information on PFAS, practical case studies, and alternatives to PFAS. Arlene Blum from our Institute will deliver a keynote address.


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