This blog has previously discussed the harmful effects of flame retardants. Flame retardants are widespread on clothing and on furniture. Though intended to protect people from danger, their chemical composition, Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) have also been known to disrupt endocrine activity and thyroid regulation. Studies have found that those exposed while still in the womb suffer from low birth weight and physical and mental birth defects. Nowhere are children more vulnerable than in California, where it was found that pregnant women had the highest levels of PBDEs in their bloodstream worldwide. The reason is because California has strictly regulated flammable materials since the 1970s, causing manufacturers to make nearly every product flame retardant. Several of these products are still in use.
Fortunately, it appears that California is finally going to make a change to its flammability standard, TB 117, that will curb the use of PBDEs. All upholstered furniture is currently required to meet this standard, even though the efficacy of the flame retardant chemicals has come under some controversy, and a combination of other methods, such as smoke alarms, has also proven to be effective.
Governor Jerry Brown directed the state to phase out TP 117, and his directive will be followed by public hearings and a lengthy administrative process. As a result, it could be more than a year before a new rule is implemented. Even with the delay, Governor Brown's directive is certain to result in healthier lives and fewer birth defects.
In the meantime, if you live in California and your child has a birth defect that you believe is the result of your exposure to flame retardants while pregnant, you might consider filing a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturers responsible. You would argue that the manufacturers had a duty to consumers to create a safe product, but the manufacturers breached that duty by creating a product that was unreasonably dangerous due to PBDEs. The manufacturers could have chosen a different approach that was no less cost effective, but chose not to do so. As a result, you were injured through exposure to the chemical, and the damage was your child's birth defect.
The difficulties with this option are that first, the manufacturers could argue that they were in compliance with existing law, and had no choice but to use that chemical. Second, since PBDEs are in practically every piece of furniture since the 1970s, it may be difficult to find the exact source of the PBDEs to which you were exposed. Some furniture might come from manufacturers that are no longer in business. Finally, you would need to determine which products you were exposed to while pregnant, since it is possible that the furniture you have now is not the same as the furniture you kept then.