Flame retardants protect against fire, but these synthetic chemicals can pose long-term health risks when they are ingested and travel through the bloodstream. Studies on these compounds, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), have linked them to health concerns, including various types of cancers, hormone disruption, brain development issues that affect memory and learning, and more.
In 2011, a study published in the American Chemical Society's (ACS) journal Environmental Science & Technology detected potentially toxic compounds associated with PBDEs in 80 percent of 101 baby products, as well as two other potentially carcinogenic chemicals. The products, which included mattresses, nursing pillows, strollers and more, used compounds banned in 172 countries and 12 U.S. states. Aside from baby products, flame retardants can also be found in household items such as furniture and electronics.
Such chemicals live not only in the products themselves, but also travel in household dust. A separate study published in 2012 in the same journal, and led by scientists at Silent Spring Institute, found 49 flame retardant chemicals in household dust.