Seeing large quantities of bright and colorful flame retardant dropped from an aircraft into a fire zone around the West Coast fires on the evening news feels assuring. Firemen are working hard to stop large fires. Homes and properties hopefully will be saved.
But what exactly is this fire retardant? Or, more specifically, what are the chemicals? Are they harmful to wildlife, crops, and people? Are they harmful to the firefighters on the ground in the fire zone beneath the drop? What are the long-term consequences of coming in contact with this red fire retardant? Where else are fire retardants present in the products that surround us?
Colorful Fire Retardant
The “red stuff” used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) which oversees the U.S. Forest Service is called Phos-Chek. It is reportedly a mixture of fertilizer (ammonium phosphate), water, and colored die so that the drop can be seen easily.
The USDA advises to keep Phos-Chek away from waterways and water resources and describes the environmental impact on water resources as “minimal”. You can purchase Pro-Check at your local big box stores to spray the perimeter of your property to create a barrier against fire. But think twice, or perhaps use it only as a measure of the last resource should your property be in the path of a large fire, because:
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH), states that “there is a growing body of evidence that shows that many of these “(fire retardant ) chemicals are associated with adverse health effects in animals and humans. These include:
- Endocrine and thyroid disruption
- Impacts on the immune system
- Reproductive toxicity
- Adverse effects on fetal and child development
- Neurologic function”
The NIH further reports that “many flame retardants have been removed from the market…However, because they do not easily break down, they can remain persistent in the environment for years. They are also bioaccumulated, or build up in people and animals over time.” So what is it – toxic or not?
Firefighters appear to be very concerned. Many firefighters are suing based on occurrences of brain, lung, kidney, liver, and thyroid cancers at relatively young ages.
NIH states specifically that children are “particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of flame retardants can cause their brain and other organs are still developing. Hand-to-mouth behavior and proximity to the floor increases the potential of children to be exposed to flame retardants. Researchers have found that children have higher concentrations of flame retardants in their bodies than adults.”
Home Fire Extinguishers
Do you have a small home fire extinguisher at your house? Do you know what kind of chemicals are in the canister? Chances are they are the toxic kind. Do you know there are more eco-friendly options? Check out the units made by Fire Free Coatings and Green Fire Technology. Both offer more eco-friendly fire extinguishers. You do not want to fill up your house with highly toxic chemicals.
Fire Retardants Are All Around Us
Fire retardants are hidden in many consumer products. You find them in the foam of furniture and mattresses, carpets, curtains, and kids’ pajamas. Toxic off-gassing or so-called volatile organic compounds will get into your home’s air. It’s just a question of when it will start. They are also found in electronics such as computers, laptops, phones, TVs, and household appliances. While we may not have an option in electronics, there are many furniture and mattress companies that use only eco-friendly green foams and glues. And why not find green cotton pajamas instead of cotton treated with fire retardants?!
In other words, fire-retardant materials are all around us. The “bioaccumulate” dimension is what we should all be most concerned about. While health effects appear to happen faster in children, adult bodies too will be affected over time and when that happens it tends to be irreversible.
Home Improvements – Kitchen Renovations, Home Additions, and More
If you are lucky enough to build or renovate your house, renovate a kitchen or bathroom ask about toxic off-gassing, ask about VOCs. Don’t take this lightly. Many builders still do know much about it and shrug it off out of ignorance. Keep on asking until you find people tuned into these important environmental issues.
Healthy home products are available in today’s marketplace across most product categories. SHG Living’s SabinesNewHouse series presents many of them. Give yourself a head start by watching the many interviews and installations. Today, most eco-friendly, healthy home building products come from Europe where allowable toxicity standards in products are substantially lower due to increased consumer awareness. However, more and more US consumers are purchasing eco-friendly, healthy home products so companies like Zehnder (presented in SabinesNewHouse’s air systems videos) have taken the step of establishing US subsidiaries. This kind of market commitment is important for maintenance and service.
The era of eco-friendly, healthy home products including green, more eco-friendly fire retardants is here now. Fire retardants are a good case of the “regular” and the more “eco-friendly” options. Know about them and purchase them for your home.