Although I'm not sure it's something to get worked up about, I do believe the barrage of environmental chemicals and toxins we are exposed to may potentially be leading to the increased rates of cancer, infertility and other chronic diseases. More research in this area of study and industry guidelines/watchdogs are definitely needed. Do we really know if flame retardants improve our survival in a house fire? What are the long term consequences of these chemicals? Read on for the full article.
Yours, in health,
From my AMA (American Medical Association) Morning Rounds:
"Two new studies on potentially toxic chemicals found in couches and other furniture in US households garnered extensive print and online coverage, but were not picked up by any of the major televisions stations. Most of the media sources noted that furniture manufacturers tend to tailor their products to meet California's standards because of the role its market plays in sustaining the nation's economy. The majority of sources also noted the health effects associated with the chemicals reported in the studies.
USA Today (11/29, Koch) reports, "More than half of US couches contain potentially toxic flame retardants that pose risks to humans as the chemicals migrate from furniture foam into house dust," according to a study published in the Nov. 28 issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Science & Technology. Researchers from the University of California-Berkeley, and Duke University found that 41 percent of the 102 couches they tested had "foam with chlorinated Tris, a probable human carcinogen removed from baby pajamas in 1977." They also discovered that 17 percent of the sofas "contained the chemical pentaBDE," which has been banned globally.
The Los Angeles Times (11/29, Boxall) "Greenspace" blog notes that the study team found that most (85%) of the couches which were purchased by US consumers "from 1985 to 2010," had been "treated with chemical flame retardants." However, another flame retardant, Firemaster 550, which "contains toxic ingredients, was detected in 13 couches, most of them sold in the last seven years."
The Bangor (ME) Daily News (11/28, Farwell) points out that studies "have found that exposing rats to high doses of Firemaster 550 can lead to lower birth weight and genital and skeletal deformities."
The Chicago Tribune (11/28, Hawthorne) noted that "several of the flame retardants detected in the new study have been linked to hormone disruption, developmental problems, lower IQ and impaired fertility." The American Chemistry Council responded to the study by issuing a statement saying, "There is no data in this study that indicate that the levels of flame retardants found would cause any human health problems." The industry trade group also "cited an analysis of a government-funded study that it said shows 'flame retardants in upholstered furniture can provide valuable escape time' from house fires." But the Tribune points out that studies by the "US Consumer Product Safety Commission and Underwriters Laboratories found that flame retardants in household furniture cushions provide no meaningful protection from fires."
The ABC News (11/28, Bockman) "Medical Unit" blog reports that because of California's "flammability standard, known as TB117 [pdf], many furniture manufacturers treat polyurethane foam with flame retardants. TB117 requires furniture sold in the state to withstand a 12-second flame exposure without igniting." Most US states have similar laws.
The NPR (11/29, Shute) "Shots" blog reports that in a second study published in the same journal, researchers at the Massachusetts-based Silent Spring Institute found "fire retardants in household dust." In 75 percent of the homes they "tested, the dust contained tris, which was banned in children's sleepwear in the 1970s because it caused cancer in lab animals." They also found that many homes "had related chemicals - TCEP and TDCIPP - which the state of California lists as carcinogens."
The studies are also covered by Forbes (11/29, Westervelt), the Huffington Post (11/28, Peeples), the CNN (11/29, Kounang) "Vitals" blog, the Fox News (11/28) website, the Baltimore Sun (11/29, Walker) "Picture of Health" blog, California Watch (11/29, Jewett), the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (11/28, Robison) "Boomer Consumer" blog, Alabama Live (11/29, Oliver), the MinnPost (11/29, Perry) "Second Opinion" column, HealthDay (11/29, Preidt) and WebMD (11/28, Boyles).
Studies come as lawmakers push for stricter regulations. The San Francisco Chronicle (11/28, Lee) notes that the new studies "arrive as state and federal lawmakers are pushing for stricter regulations on potentially hazardous chemicals that go into furniture, electronics and other products." California Gov. Jerry Brown "now wants regulations to reduce the number of chemicals permitted in furniture, but experts say the law has already done damage nationwide."
Similarly, The Hill (11/29, Viebeck) "Healthwatch" blog reports that the release of the new research on Wednesday prompted advocates to "argue for passage of the Safe Chemicals Act." The bill, which Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) sponsored, "would restrict the use of chemicals that are not proven to be safe.'"
I'm trying to respond to your comments as you highlight some great points, however, my website won't let me respond for some reason (quirk!). As you have already discovered (evidenced by your second comment), we are in WAY over our heads in terms of carcinogens in our environment. Here's one great reference to start to answer your "environmental causes of cancer" question:
You can find the full report at: http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualReports/pcp08-09rpt/PCP_Report_08-09_508.pdf.
I have also blogged on that report a few times - See "Repost: Because It's So Important" from November 2010.
Other resources on the toxins implicated in causing cancer in children can be found on the Mount Sinai Children's Environmental Health Center website at http://www.mountsinai.org/patient-care/service-areas/children/areas-of-care/childrens-environmental-health-center
Their research can be found at:
As for your first question, it is possible that unfunded patients may die without a diagnosis, but that is generally not the case. They usually die because they do not get adequate screening and preventive care as they tend to present too late in the disease process for treatment. I can tell you from firsthand experience, that I have diagnosed multiple patients in the hospital with cancer for which they cannot receive treatment either due to lack of funding or to late progression of the disease process. That being said, American citizens can apply for emergency Medicaid/Medicare status with the hopes that they recieve approval. Also, there are great non-profits working their butts off to obtain funds for some of them.
And yes, New Yorkers have been noted to live longer than other Americans (likely secondary to walking so much). I do agree this goes against my argument today, however, there are SOO many factors involved, ranging from socioeconomic status and education level to the droves of young people flocking to the live in Manhattan every year. Let's be honest, NYC is no place to grow old!
I hope this has been helpful in answering some of your questions. Let me know if you have any more. Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there! : D
Dr. Maltz earned a Medical Degree and Master in Public Health from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, TX. She completed a combined Internal and Preventive Medicine Residency at UTMB in June, 2011. She then completed a 2-year Integrative Medicine Fellowship at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, CT, during which she simultaneously underwent an intensive 1000-hour curriculum created by The University of Arizona Integrative Medicine Program founded by Dr. Andrew Weil.