The list of side effects, including cancer and diabetes, reminded me of leaded gas or ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons. This was another quick embrace of a chemical solution that may be disastrous in the long term. The chemical in question, however, can be found indoors thanks to its common presence in architectural materials.
The problem lies in flame retardants, a range of chemicals placed in architectural materials to satisfy fire-resistance tests. These tests have gone a long way to saving lives but now, it seems, the chemical presence they encourage indoors may be just as dangerous. We’re learning that the flame retardants don’t stay locked within materials and accumulate within the human body. Suzanne Drake, a senior interior designer and associate at the international firm Perkins+Will, coauthored a white paper with a chemistry PhD to communicate the possible dangers. As she said at the end of the interview, “We have sprinkler systems for fires that occur once in a blue moon—meanwhile, I’m being exposed to these chemicals every day for years on end. Which is more dangerous?” Read on to find out more.