Unborn children are at risk of being ‘pre-polluted’ in the womb

Revealed: Unborn children are at risk of being ‘pre-polluted’ in the womb by poisonous chemicals in furniture and electrical goods

  • Found in furniture, electronics, the chemicals can reach infants via breast milk
  • MPs warned that the potential impact on health was frightening, causing cancer
  • Said breast milk in Britain had world’s second-highest levels of flame retardants 
  • MPs on the Commons environmental audit committee wrote it in their report called Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life

Babies are at risk of being ‘pre-polluted’ by toxins in everyday household items.

Found in furniture and electronics, the chemicals can reach infants via breast milk or even in the womb.

MPs warned that the potential impact on health was frightening. 

Found in furniture and electronics, the chemicals can reach infants via breast milk or even in the womb (stock) 

They said breast milk in Britain had the world’s second-highest levels of flame retardants, which can cause cancer and disrupt hormones.

In their report, called Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life, the MPs on the Commons environmental audit committee:

  • Call for a ban on the most dangerous chemicals in food packaging, which are linked to cancer and DNA damage;
  • Say a public information campaign is needed to warn the public about their ‘chemical burden’ and how to cut it;
  • Demand a reduction in the use of flame retardants in domestic furniture;
  • Recommend urgent testing for Grenfell fire survivors who are suffering health problems such as vomiting.

The committee heard three months of evidence from experts and received 64 written submissions for an inquiry into chemicals in everyday use.

Its chairman, Labour MP Mary Creagh, said: ‘People are breathing in these toxic chemicals every day in their own homes where they expect to feel safe.

‘It’s a frightening situation when there is growing evidence about the risks some flame retardants pose to human health. 

MPs warned that the potential impact on health was frightening. They said breast milk in Britain had the world’s second-highest levels of flame retardants, which can cause cancer and disrupt hormones (stock)

‘Most people assume that they aren’t at risk from toxic chemicals but the reality is different. Mums in the UK have some of the world’s highest concentrations of flame retardants in their breast milk, some of which have now been banned.

‘Chemical flame retardants are still being widely used in our furnishings from children’s mattresses to sofas.

‘Meanwhile the Government is sitting on its hands instead of changing regulations to ensure that the most toxic chemicals are taken out of use.’

The flame retardants found in breast milk and umbilical cord blood have largely been banned, but break down slowly in the environment and continue to pose a threat, mainly in dust and food. 

The chemicals have been found to cause cancer as well as have a toxic effect on the liver and kidneys,

The flame retardants found in breast milk and umbilical cord blood have largely been banned, but break down slowly in the environment and continue to pose a threat, mainly in dust and food. The chemicals have been found to cause cancer as well as have a toxic effect on the liver and kidneys (stock)

The report singles out plastic food packaging and the flame retardants as major causes for concern.

Michael Depledge, a University of Exeter professor who gave evidence to the committee in April, said: ‘As we are now living longer, we are accumulating levels in our bodies that are much higher than ever before – we do not know what the implications are of it.’

The report calls for testing, which could involve blood, hair, saliva and urine samples, to assess the extent of chemical pollution in our bodies. The chemicals combine with dust, are inhaled in the air or can be absorbed through the skin.

The report states: ‘Inaction has allowed unnecessary and potentially toxic chemicals to continue to enter homes for over a decade.

In their report, called Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life, the MPs on the Commons environmental audit committee call for a ban on the most dangerous chemicals in food packaging, which are linked to cancer and DNA damage (stock)

‘It is clear that opposition from some in the furniture and flame-retardant industries, and protection of their market share, also contributed to the delay.’

Dr Michael Warhurst, of the CHEM Trust campaign group, said: ‘It is incredibly concerning that due to poorly-written UK laws driving the use of hazardous flame-retardant chemicals, our bodies and those of our children are polluted by these toxic substances.’

The British Furniture Confederation said in a statement: ‘We believe the furniture industry is fully in support of the need to identify and reduce the use of hazardous fire-retardant chemicals while still maintaining a high degree of fire safety.’

A Government spokesman said: ‘The UK’s furniture safety requirements are the highest in Europe. We are committed to improving environmental outcomes and reducing toxicity but need to do so in a clear, well-evidenced way.’

Chemical danger in everyday items:

FLAME RETARDANTS

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers are in furniture and building materials

RISK: Toxic and can cause cancer

PHTHALATES

Found in food packs, furnishings and PVC, they make plastic more flexible

RISK: Increased chance of birth defects and neurological problems

BISPHENOLS

Found in paper receipts, food can linings, plastic and electronic toys

RISK: Increased chance of cancer, disrupts the reproductive system

PERFLUORINATED CHEMICALS

Found in waterproof clothing, non-stick pans and toys

RISK: Cancer and infertility

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