Study measures carcinogenic flame retardants in people

Research Area: 

flame retardants in people

For the first time in decades, furniture free of toxic flame retardants is becoming widely available to consumers. That’s because what’s become the de facto national standard for flame resistance in furniture has changed after a public outcry.

Still, consumers will need to request furniture that’s completely free of chemical flame retardants at the many retailers offering it, such as IKEA and Williams-Sonoma.

A new peer-reviewed study we conducted, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), provides even more evidence that it’s worth it for consumers to do so. We’ve long known about the presence in people of certain flame retardants, such PBDEs, but our concern about contamination from a broader number of the chemicals has been confirmed.

We tested urine samples of California residents for biomarkers of six chemicals that have been rarely studied in the US, and we found all of them. This was the first time the known carcinogen, TCEP, was detected in Americans.

Along with collaborating scientists at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, we developed a way to test for this class of toxic flame retardants (phosphates), which could open up a new wave of research into this group of pervasive flame retardants.

How to reduce exposure:

  • Ask for flame-retardant free furniture.
  • Go natural. Choose flame-resistant materials without chemical additives such as wool, polyester, and down.
  • If it’s ripped, fix it. Make sure foam is not exposed in furniture.
  • Get rid of dust. Vacuum regularly with a HEPA filter. Wipe surfaces with wet cloth or mop.
  • Wash hands frequently, especially before eating. It reduces the amount of flame retardants that enter our bodies.
  •  Buy snug pajamas for children. Look for the tag that says to wear snug fitting pajamas because they are not flame resistant. 
  • Get involved.  The Children and Firefighters Protection Act (S. 2811) would ban 10 flame retardants.  To learn more, visit Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.


Article: Urinary Biomonitoring of Phosphate Flame Retardants: Levels in California Adults and Recommendations for Future Studies

Fact Sheet:  Carcinogenic Flame Retardants Measured in People

Press Release: A Previously Unrecognized Flame Retardant Found in Americans for the First Time

Tips to Reduce Exposures to Toxic Flame Retardants

The study, which appeared in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology, was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, The New York Community Trust, the Fine Fund, and Art beCAUSE Breast Cancer Foundation.