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For the record

'For the Record' on whether old sofas can affect babies' weight

An article appeared in the Telegraph on 31st August reporting research coming from Berkeley, California, examining the relationship between the use of a specific type of flame retardant, and infant birth weight. The article says that the effect on birth-weight of exposure to flame retardants can be similar to that of smoking during pregnancy. Some flame retardants (polybrominated dephenyl ethers) the journalist admits, have been banned in the EU. But the article nevertheless warns that “...the dangerous substances are found lurking in most homes in everyday items such as sofas”. However, the research in question was exclusively about these banned chemicals.

Dr John Hoskins, Independent Toxicologist said:

”The once popular and very effective brominated flame retardants have been widely used in a variety of consumer products including vehicles, household furnishings, and consumer electronics. Unfortunately several of them turned out to be toxic and bio-persistent and so many of them have now been banned and the remainder are being phased out. However, because of their widespread use they are still present in many homes. The study reported in this article looks exclusively at one group of the compounds, the PentaBromoDiphenyl Ethers (PBDEs), which are particularly toxic and bio-persistent and are no longer used in many countries including those in the EU. There is no longer any production of them in the Western world.

 It’s worth remembering, though, that flame retardants are added to products for worthwhile reasons. Fire is a significant cause of death, injury and property damage - and flame retardants have been very successful in protecting people and property from the risks. We need flame retardants but they have to be compounds that are safe to use. It has been estimated that, from 1988 to 2002 the 1988 UK furniture regulations that made flame retardants compulsory are estimated to have saved 1,150 lives and prevented 13,442 injuries.”

Read more in our Making Sense of Chemical Stories publication, and the Royal Society of Chemistry's note on `Why Do We Worry About Brominated Flame Retardants?".

Document type: For The Record

Published: 2 September 2011

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