November 28th, 2012

Toxic Flame Retardants Impact Communities of Color

Two New Studies Show Cancer Causing Chemicals in Couches, Homes

(Washington, DC) A toxic chemical flame retardant linked to cancer and other health impacts was found in two peer reviewed studies published today. Environmental Health Perspectives published a study by the Silent Spring Institute showing chlorinated Tris and phosphate based toxic chemicals in the dust in homes in Richmond and Bolinas, California. Predominantly African American low income families live in the Richmond homes that were tested. The Richmond community is still struggling to recover from a Chevron refinery fire that recently spewed other toxic chemicals into the local environment.

Another study examined foam from over 100 couches nationwide, and found the same chemicals. Published in Environmental Science & Technology, lead scientist Heather Stapleton, PhD, from Duke University found that even though other toxic flame retardant chemicals containing PBDEs are banned, that the flame retardant chemical industry is marketing a chemical linked to cancer as a replacement. Stapleton conducted an earlier study that revealed that African American and Latino toddlers have higher levels of the banned flame retardant chemicals PBDEs in dust on their hands than white toddlers.

“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. I have always tried to have a healthy home environment. 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,” says a participant of the Silent Spring study, Sylvia Hopkins.

Pacific Islanders, African Americans, Latinos and other families of color live in Richmond, often closest to polluting sources such as chemical plants and the Chevron Oil Refinery.

“Residents in North Richmond, Ca , are primarily African-Americans and Latinos. 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? asks Dr. Henry Clark with West County Toxics Coalition.

“Many couches end up in landfills, which are usually placed in or near historic communities of color,” explains Michele Roberts from the Environmental Health & Justice Alliance. “The banned flame retardant chemicals leach into the soil, air, and water of those communities and contribute to the higher impact of chemical exposures on people of color. The new flame retardant chemicals may also be dangerous to health. We need overarching federal reform of the Toxic Substance & Control Act to prevent these exposures.”

“We had several samples tested from predominantly Latino homes here in Albuquerque,” says Richard Moore of the Los Jardines Institute. “Almost all had chlorinated Tris and other toxic flame retardant chemicals. Many of these families are also living near recycling plants, where they get chemicals exposure, and have higher rates of health problems that go along with that. Federal, state ,and local authorities need to make chemical exposure in vulnerable communities a priority now to protect the health of our children!”

Ana Mascareñas from Physicians for Social Responsibility - Los Angeles, comments, “The reason furniture with foam meant for sale in California - but sold everywhere - has to have these toxic flame retardant chemicals in them is an outdated California regulation. Environmental Justice leaders here in California are working to change that regulation, realizing these flame retardant chemicals impact their communities the most.”

“Here in Louisiana we have so much chemical exposure that they call us ‘Cancer Ally,’ ” says Dorothy Felix of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN).”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?”

“We know that persistent banned flame retardant chemicals drift North on wind and water because we find them in our traditional foods and even in our own bodies,” says Vi Waghiyi, a Yupik mother and grandmother from St. Lawrence Island in Arctic Alaska. Vi works on international treaties to halt toxic exposure. “Now, we have two more studies telling us what we already know: rising rates of cancer and other illness in our communities are linked to chemical exposure from products in our homes as well as other sources. The suffering is preventable, and we need to urgently stop toxic chemical exposure.”

“Down here in Houston and most of the Gulf area, we get almost continuous chemical exposure from refinery fires and contamination that comes with the chemical plants built in historic Black and Latino communities,” says Juan Parras of Texas Environmental Advocacy Services (TEJAS) in Houston. “Cancer causing chemicals in couches and in the dust of homes near refineries has to be a major factor in all the cancer and other illness we see here. We are not disposable human beings. Chemical contamination in communities of color has to be stopped now.”

Available for Interviews

Martha Dina Arguello, Executive Director, marguello@psr-la.org, Physicians for Social Responsibility - Los Angeles (PSR-LA) 213 689-9170, Martha can address CA policy efforts to stop the halogenated flame retardants, and efforts by the chemical industry to mislead leaders from communities of color on the science and hazards of the chemicals.

Jose T. Bravo, Executive Director, Just Transition Alliance, San Diego, CA. 619.838.6694, jose@just-transition.org. Jose works with communities contaminated with chemicals, which occurs mostly where people of color and low-income residents live, Habla Espanol

Dr. Henry Clark, West County Toxics Coalition, 925-978-4129. Dr. Clark can address the long standing chemical exposure issues in Richmond among families of color.

Cecil Corbin-Mark, Director of Policy Initiatives and Deputy Director for WE ACT for Environmental Justice (WE ACT) in New York, NY. 212.961.1000 ext. 303, Cecil@weact.org. Cecil can address environmental justice and chemical exposure issues, how the flame retardant industry has targeted communities of color in New York.

Dorothy Felix, Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN- Louisiana), to contact, see Michele Roberts, below.

Sylvia Hopkins, Silent Spring Richmond study participant, 510 236-1226. Sylvia can address chemical exposures in Richmond area.

Ana Mascareñas, Policy & Communications Coordinator, Physicians for Social Responsibility - Los Angeles (PSR-LA) 213 689-9170, amascarenas@psr-la.org. Ana can explain state policy efforts to stop the halogenated flame retardants, and efforts by the chemical industry to mislead leaders from communities of color on the science and hazards of the chemicals.

Mark A. Mitchell M.D., MPH, Senior Policy Advisor of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice and Co-chair of the Environmental Health Task Force for the National Medical Association, the oldest and largest association of Physicians of Color. 860.794.9497, mmitchell@enviro-md.com. Mark can talk about health disparities linked to environmental issues, as well as hot spots, legacy chemicals, increased susceptibility and unanticipated exposures in environmental justice communities.

Richard Moore, Los Jardines, Institute in Albuquerque, NM, 505.301.0276, ljinewmexico@gmail.com. Richard can talk about environmental justice issues and organizing in the Southwest. Habla Espanol

Juan Parras, Bryan Parras, TEJAS, Houston, lucas77@gmail.com, 713.303.5811, Juan and Bryan work with communities in the Houston ship channel and in Cancer Ally, suffering from refinery chemicals’ exposures. They also work with Gulf groups on climate and energy issues, including the Keystone Pipeline opposition.

Michele Roberts, Work Group co-leader, Environmental Health & Justice Alliance. robertsmichele7@gmail.com. Michele can address TSCA policy issues and the chemical pollution impacts on communities in Mossville, Louisiana and other historic African American communities.

Vi Waghiyi, Environmental Health and Justice Program Director, Alaska Community Action on Toxics. 907.222.7714 or 907.444.9194 (cell). Vi can speak to the shocking chemical test results of the St. Lawrence Island, Alaska traditional foods and human health bio-monitoring results of Alaska native people.


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