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ARE WE IN DEEP WATER?: Cousteau Warns of Flame Retardant Dangers

Even practices and materials that are designed to protect our health and safety may have adverse environmental impacts that threaten that same health and safety. Flame retardants – used in a wide array of products, including building materials, electronics, furnishings, motor vehicles, airplanes, plastics, polyurethane foams, and textiles including baby clothes – are a case in point.

The dangers posed by such flame retardants were addressed by Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of the Ocean Futures Society (OFS), at a press conference on Tuesday, April 21, at the Santa Monica Pier, where he announced OFS’s latest findings: humans are contaminated with toxins found in flame retardants – the same toxins found in whales and marine life. Cousteau and crew member marine biologist Holly Lohuis talked about the impact of their findings on the environment and how the new OFS campaign is working to find alternative solutions and better protection against flame retardants containing PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers).

Jean-Michel Cousteau, explorer, environmentalist, film producer, and son of the famed Jacques Cousteau, said, “The OFS team and I cannot wait to act. We are joining forces with decision-makers in government and industry to address the public’s demand for protection.”

While contaminants have been found in whales before, Cousteau shared that for the first time, his crew found a high concentration of flame retardants/PBDEs in whales on the West Coast because California is the leading state to use flame retardants on literally every product, from baby clothes to electronics. He explained that children in California households breathe dust that contains 10 times the amount of toxic flame retardants found in any other state and 200 times the amount found in European households.

Cousteau also said that it was through this finding that Ocean Futures Society has launched its Contaminants Campaign as a way to educate and empower consumers to take action to protect themselves, their families, and the environment.

Joining Cousteau and Lohuis at the press conference were Joel Reynolds, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Southern California program, who introduced Cousteau, and Heal the Bay director of the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, Vicky Wawerchak. Also on the platform was Michael Gonsior, Ph.D., Department of Water Resources, University of California, Irvine, who spoke in general about PBDEs, and said that PBDEs are showing up in high levels in marine life as well as humans.

OFS’s investigation is illustrated in Cousteau’s PBS film Call of the Killer Whales, which aired April 22. The Ocean Futures Society campaign intends to educate, inform, and create a dialogue for change from the level of the individual to the corporate boardroom and international legislatures until environmental protection from toxic contaminants like flame retardants is assured.

PBDEs are structurally akin to the PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) once used in flame retardants and in transformers and capacitors, coolants, lubricants, stabilizing additives in flexible PVC coatings of electrical wiring and electronic components, pesticide extenders, cutting oils, hydraulic fluids, sealants (used in caulking, etc.), adhesives, wood floor finishes, paints, de-dusting agents, and in carbonless copy paper, until they were banned in the 1970s due to the high toxicity of most PCB congeners and mixtures.

To learn more about this issue, visit toxicflameretardants.org and oceanfutures.org.

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