Chemical “flame retardants”, used to reduce the flammability of various everyday objects, harm human health and biodiversity. New research shows that more than 100 animal species are affected by these toxic products, which have been banned in many countries since the 1970s. These products accumulate in food chains, seriously threatening animal health.
“Flame retardants” are chemicals added to everyday objects (vehicles, furniture, electronic devices, etc.) to make them less flammable, and also meet fire resistance standards. Recognized as harmful to human health, these products also have significant consequences on biodiversity.
Flame retardants threaten more than a hundred animal species
According to a (non-exhaustive) meta-analysis carried out by the Green Science Policy Institute (California, United States) which compiles studies carried out on all continents over the last twenty years, more than a hundred animal species would be contaminated by highly and lastingly toxic chemicals. Red pandas, orcas and chimpanzees are on the list of animal species most threatened by these products. The study is presented in the form of an interactive map, indicating the country of origin of endangered animal species, as well as the group(s) of chemical substances to which they are exposed.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), chlorinated paraffins, flame retardants, etc. These substances accumulate in marine and terrestrial food chains, with the highest concentrations found in marine mammals and birds of prey. “PCB levels in orcas have been linked to lower survival rates and immune systems in calves“, notes for example the study. These products have however been banned in many countries around the world since the 70s and 80s, due to their proven harmful impact on human and animal health. According to a study published in 2018 in the journal Science, “effects of PCBs on reproduction and immune function threaten the long-term viability of more than 50% of orca populations worldwide“.
🚨“Killer whales shouldn’t have to swim in a sea of flame retardants.” More than 150 species of wild animals across every continent are contaminated with #flameretardantsthanks to outdated product flammability standards. See the map: https://t.co/upv6z4zQls pic.twitter.com/xFRjL5O9UV
— Green Science Policy Institute (@Green_Science) October 18, 2023
Products that can persist decades after being banned
The Green Science Policy Institute study also cites the case of black-spotted frogs and snakes in China. These animals, which live near e-waste recycling facilities, have high levels of many flame retardants (mainly chlorinated paraffins) in their bodies, which can be transmitted into their eggs. Among the species listed on the map, 16 are considered “endangered”, while 36 are considered “vulnerable” or “near threatened”.
“Wildlife and humans are exposed to flame retardants through air, water and food. This exposure can continue decades after a specific flame retardant is phased out due to its persistent, mobile, bioaccumulative and toxic properties“, point out the authors of the research.
Before concluding : “Flame retardants should only be used after demonstrating their safety for health and their usefulness in preventing fires“.