A cancer-causing flame retardant was found in the couches and dust of minority homes across the country, according to two new studies published in the November issue of Environmental Science & Technology.

One study, conducted by the Silent Spring Institute, found chlorinated Tris, a substance banned from use in children’s pajamas in the 1970s because of its ability to induce mutations, but which was later used in household furniture and other baby products. Also found were phosphate-based toxic chemicals in the dust in homes in the California communities of Richmond and Bolinas.

Predominantly African-American, low-income families live in the homes tested in Richmond, a community located in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay area. These families are still recovering from a recent Chevron refinery fire that spewed other toxic chemicals into the local environment.

“I live in a low-income area in Richmond. We are already impacted by the oil refinery pollution here. Now the results from my participation in this study shows Tris and other harmful flame retardant chemicals are in my house,” said Sylvia Hopkins, a participant in the Silent Spring study. “Worry about the accumulated effects of all this is an additional stress on anyone’s system. I am concerned for my neighbors, many of whom are raising their little children here.”

Dr. Henry Clark of the West County Toxics Coalition said the study underscored the environmental injustice being practiced in the state.

“Residents in North Richmond, Calif., are primarily African-Americans and Latinos,” he said. “We are already disproportionately impacted by the Chevron Refinery and other sources of pollution. This is environmental racism and human rights violations. Now we are talking about chemical flame retardants that add more risk and health problems. When will these human rights violations stop?”

Another study, led by Duke University scientist Heather Stapleton, found the same dangerous chemicals in 100 couches nationwide. And, in an earlier survey, Stapleton found that African-American and Latino toddlers have higher levels of the banned flame retardant chemicals in dust on their hands than White toddlers.

Several activists, including representatives from Physicians for Social Responsibility, Los Jardines Institute and the Environmental Health & Justice Alliance, said the application of the flame retardant chemicals to furniture with foam is based on outdated regulations. They called on Washington officials to reform the Toxic Substance & Control Act to reduce such chemical exposures.

“Here in Louisiana we have so much chemical exposure that they call us ‘Cancer Alley,’” said Dorothy Felix of Mossville Environmental Action Now. “How many studies have to come out like these two before the flame retardant chemical companies and the government regulators who are supposed to protect us finally get real about stopping toxic chemicals from hurting us?”

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO