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Every time I travel out east to visit my parents and grandmother I always think of my grandfather. Growing up, he was a second father to me, always present and supportive in every way. I will never forget the way he delighted in playing with my son, his first great grandson.

He never got to meet my four-year-old daughter as he died six years ago of lung cancer.

When I tell people this, they immediately assume that he smoked. No he did not. This was a man who took care of himself. He made sure to clock in his eight hours of sleep a night, eat healthy, watch his weight and even subscribed to a health and fitness magazine. In his late 70s, he was active, his olive skin hardly had any wrinkles, and his black hair was peppered only at the temples.

But then he was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, lung cancer due to asbestos that he was exposed to in the shipyards and manufacturing plants where he worked.

I would not wish this disease on anyone. He died in hospice care at my parents’ home, choking on his own blood. He spent the last few months of his life on an oxygen tank, which he wheeled around, as his breathing became labored.  

Asbestos, by the way, is used to prevent fires. Many workplaces, including schools, have attempted to phase out asbestos due to the number of Mesothelioma cases in the 1970s and in recent years. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tried to ban it in 1989, but was overruled in court. Today workplaces and consumer products can still legally contain trace amounts of asbestos.

For me, this is outrageous and concerning. But as I have learned in recent years there are a host of other carcinogenic, fire-fighting chemicals to worry about: toxic and untested flame retardants.

The Green Science Policy Institute, which is headed by Arlene Blum, the scientist whose work contributed to the phasing out of a cancer-causing flame retardant in children’s pajamas in the 1970s, just uncovered some disturbing research. Her organization helped collect samples of the foam from 100 baby products, including changing table pads, nursing pillows and car seats. Researchers, lead by Heather Stapleton of Duke University, found that 36% of them contained the same chlorinated tris removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s. A whopping 80% of the products contained toxic or untested flame retardants.

"I am always careful to protect my son," Holly S. Lohuis, a marine biologist whose son had been biomonitored for toxic chemicals, said in a released statement. "I am heartbroken that at age four his levels of flame retardants are like those of an industrial worker."

For Latino families, the results of this study are especially discouraging. Not only are our families exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace, but according to this study, Mexican American schoolchildren in California have seven times the flame retardant level compared to children in Mexico. And just to show you how vulnerable their little bodies are, these same children had three times the level of flame retardants as their mothers.

This is disturbing as animal studies have linked flame retardants to cancer, neurological and reproductive disorders. The flame retardants easily leach onto dust, pet hair, and the crumbling foam of old products -- surely, I am not the only one who used second-hand baby products! -- making them easy to ingest by children.

What irks me most is these companies have managed to turn it around, claim their "fire safe" products are superior and even worth paying for. What they don't display is the hidden cost for our children, our babies, in terms of their health.

Also, most fire victims -- as many as 80% -- die due to smoke inhalation rather than the actual flames. So why don't we take a deep breath -- a deep breath of fresh air that is -- and take care of our lungs and that of our children. After witnessing our family’s exposure to the fire-fighting chemical, asbestos, I, for one, do not want to find out the longterm effect of toxic flame retardants in my children's bodies.

Elisa Batista, who co-publishes the MotherTalkers blog, is also a proud contributor to the MomsRising and Moms Clean Air Force blogs. She dedicates this post to her late abuelo, Diego Batista Martinez.  

Originally posted to Elisa on Wed May 18, 2011 at 02:02 PM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots and ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Re: fires & smoke inhalation (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ice Blue, JupiterSurf, Ezekial 23 20, x, BYw

    Many of the materials used in construction, clothing and furnishings release cyanide. The NYC Fire Department Emergency Medical Service recognized this as a major cause of death secondary to smoke inhalation  and that it must be treated at the scene as quickly as possible. The NYC Paramedics are now able to administer an antidote, hydroxocobalamin, that binds the cyanide and save many of who would otherwise succumbed to smoke inhalation.

  •  Flame retardents have also been linked... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gzodik, x, ocular sinister

    to hyperthyroid conditions in house cats.  Not proven yet, but there's statistical correlation.  And if they can mess up your cat, they're probably not doing you any good.

  •  I have trouble with this diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Roadbed Guy

    concern about links to various ailments after long-term exposure to fire retardants is understandable, but the fact is many, many people have died from short-term exposure to fire.

    The young girl who would have grown to be my oldest sister, for example, died in a horrific fire in the early 1950s when her night clothes caught fire.  It wasn't the smoke that killed her.  It was the highly flammable clothing and bedding.

    I'll take a few chances in a million excess cancer risk over that any day.

    •  Bad Science Doesn't Hurt Either (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Roadbed Guy

      The diarist clearly doesn't understand the differences between asbestos and flame retardant chemicals and how and why they were applied the way they were/are.  For one thing, asbestos is not a "fire-fighting chemical" as the diarist states.  It's a fire-resistant rock fiber, which is both its best and worst feature.  As a fiber, it can be formed into cloth and batting for wrapping around very hot pipes and ducts and barriers.  When those fibers get broken, they prove virtually indestructible and irritating when they work their way into the lining of the chest or the digestive tract and perpetually irritate the body's own defense systems.  It's function and use and method of application are totally different than the retardant chemicals which are applied to naturally flammable fibers but which can escape from the fiber.  There is essentially nothing similar about the two situations scientifically.

      "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

      by PrahaPartizan on Wed May 18, 2011 at 04:07:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The parallels... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ocular sinister

        I was drawing was that both materials are meant to resist fires. They were both introduced to the public without testing, yet both have proven to be toxic.

        The chemical industry loves to muddy the science, even say they are "saving lives", as there is money to be made from these materials. But I can assure you that the workers who are spraying the foam and products with flame retardants are probably wearing masks and safety gear as they are toxic.

        You can have them if you want, but I'd like the option to at least buy products without them, which I don't have the right to as a California resident.

    •  Nevertheless the diarist seems to have (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      downplayed this angle, which would have been sure to rile up a goodly number of DKer's:

      Recent studies found that pet cats in the U.S. have very high levels of PBDEs in their blood. Researchers identified an association between the PBDEs in cats and hyperthyroidism. This is a new disease in cats that emerged around 1980 soon after PBDE's began to be used in significant quantities, and is now the second most common disease in cats.

      That's a real shame.

    •  Sorry for the late response! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ocular sinister

      Mommy duties caught up to me. :)

      First of all, I am so sorry for your loss. But I want to point out that flame retardants have little to nothing to do with saving lives. California practically mandates it in ALL of our furniture and the foam of all of our products, like nursing pillows, and even some of our clothes, yet deaths due to fires are NOT lower than states who do not have a similar law in place.

      Also, the baby products in question -- strollers, changing pads, nursing pillows and car seats -- do not pose a fire hazard. The ways we HAVE been able to cut down on fire deaths has been the decline of smoking rates, the use of "fire safe" cigarettes, supervision of our children around matches, and of course, making sure there are working smoke detectors in the home. That would give us much more warning in a fire than the six to 12-SECOND delay from flame retardants.

      I know our pediatrician asked us if we had working smoke detectors in our house -- she did not ask us whether we had so-called "fire resistant" pajamas.

      I'd rather not expose my family to these toxic chemicals, especially since the benefits do not outweigh the risks.

  •  I worry about this with my pets. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ocular sinister

    Both of whom have a tendency to lick things, such as the cushions on the couch or the throw pillows, which, as required by state law, are treated with flame retardants.  No matter what I've tried, I've never been able to break them of the licking.

    Both dogs, by age nine, are covered in warts and lumps as big as silver dollars across.  

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