Terrible Toxins 4: PBDEs

August 04, 2009

Terrible Toxins 4: PBDEs 

 Competency # 18  Environmental Toxins               Reference: The Body Toxic by Nena Baker, Published by Farrar, Strauss 2008 PBDE’s?  

What on earth!  Poly Brominated Diphenyl Ether, another possible persistent toxin.  Bromine, attached many times to benzene rings acts as a wonderful flame-retardant.  When the substance starts to burn, the bromine gobbles up all the oxygen and literally snuffs out the fire internally.  That is a cool thing.  We save over 280 lives a year in America by adding flame-retardants to our products.  There is a social benefit to that.  

Bromine is in the chlorine, fluorine, and iodine family, and there is a big industry supporting its use.  Discovering the property of flame retardation is part of our safety journey to making our homes safe from fire.  But are PBDEs safe? “Houston, we have a problem.”   PBDEs leach out of the products that they are in.  They are in stain removers, water repellants, and flame-retardants.  They build up in places like carpets as they leach out of computers, carpets, and furniture.  Tiny children, so-called “rug-rats” are on the carpet all the time and their blood levels are building very rapidly.   

In fact, in America, we can show a doubling of the blood level of PBDEs every 2.5 years.  House cats have the same problem.  They spend time on the floor with the kids.  Cats groom themselves and lick their fur.  Kids put everything in their mouths.  When we exam the level of PBDEs in fat tissue from liposuction patients, we find 10,000 parts per billion in the fat tissue. Cats have suddenly developed an epidemic of hyperthyroidism.  Cause unknown.  

Here is an hypothesis.  Bromine is chemically closely related to iodine, which affects thyroids.  We haven’t specifically found a clear connection to human problems but lab animal fetuses show problems with brain development and with muscle and movement disorders.  In Sweden, they were alarmed enough to ban PBDEs and sure enough, breast milk concentrations started dropping rapidly.  Volvo and IKEA removed PBDEs from all their products. In America, we have 10 times the levels of PBDEs that there are in Europe.  One study from Texas showed a 100-fold increase over European levels.  Dubious distinction.   

Because of those concerns, the makers of PBDEs in America voluntarily withdrew two of the less used ones called OCTA and PENTA but held onto DECA.  (There are about 209 different kinds and figuring out which is the worst has been a challenge.) Currently, about 80% of PBDEs are in the plastic housings of computers and TVs.  They are good flame-retardants.  They can be mixed in with the plastic and hardly affect its stiffness and durability.  If only it didn’t leach out!   

It costs about $ 4-6 extra to make a computer without using them.  Many companies are voluntarily moving away from them.  Apple, Dell, HP, Sony have all stopped using them.  The European Union banned them as of July 1, 2008. 

 WWW.  What Will Work for Me?  You should ban them too!  If you have plans to buy a new TV or computer, ask if it has PBDEs in it.  If you have old furniture or carpeting, be very careful when you remove it.  Tape off the area from the rest of your house.  Furniture made prior to 2005 is loaded with it.  Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum when you remove old carpeting.  Keep your kids on new PDBE free carpet.

Column written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI, (262-784-5300)