Lifewatch: Flame retardant chemical

Reported by Claire Hosmann - email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

OHIO (WECT) - Halloween costume shopping is trickier for parents who are worried about flame retardants.

But what impact the compounds have on human health is a question that may not be answered for some time.

The chemical PBDE is used as a common flame retardant to reduce the risk of fire.  Though it is an excellent flame retardant, the chemicals can accumulate in the environment and in human bodies.

Recent reports indicate that exposure to PBDE may result in damage to the nervous and reproductive systems.

For years, the flame retardant label has been a Halloween costume safety seal of approval.  Now, the label is triggering concern and confusion.

There is ongoing research and mixed messages about the safety of PBDE's, which is used to treat fabrics and a menu of other consumer products from mattresses to cell phones.

"I think caution not alarm what we're really looking for here," said Dr. Randy Wexler with the Ohio State Medical Center.

Wexler says while it is nearly impossible to completely avoid PBDE's, eating a low-fat, high fiber diet is one way to help reduce exposure.

"One of the benefits of the low fat diet is the PBDE's tend to accumulate in animal fat," said Wexler.

Housecleaning, regular vacuuming, and dusting can lower the amount of PBDE residue in the home.  Wexler also recommends keeping an eye on the thermostat in the winter.

"Higher heat actually releases these chemicals and increases their concentration," said Wexler.

As for fabric choices, wool gets the thumbs-up for health and fire safety from OSUMC Burn Center Director Dr. Sydney Miller.

"It is naturally flame retardant and the whole issue of the chemicals doesn't really come up," said Miller.

While wool may not be the most comfortable choice for a Halloween costume, Miller says a layer of natural fabric under costumes can help protect skin from chemicals.

She notes using flashlights and avoiding the use of any open flame is a Halloween fire safety strategy that still gets the safety seal of approval.

Textile manufacturers are no longer required by law to make costumes flame retardant.

The American Council on Science and Health says there is no credible evidence that the chemical represents a danger to humans or the environment.

A number of institutions are launching studies to better understand the potential effect on human health.