If you've got cats or kids crawling around on rugs and furniture, lets do the good news part first...natural fiber area rugs, natural flooring materials, and natural fiber upholstered furniture items are, in general, are very fashionable. And green. A little bad news though: those cat scratch things made of old carpet ends are perhaps not so good.
An article in Environmental Research and Technology Online "documents that house cats can have extraordinarily high concentrations of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants in their blood. Janice Dye, a veterinary internist at the U.S. EPA's National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory (NHEERL), and her colleagues say their findings suggest that "chronic [cumulative] low-dose PBDE exposure may be more endocrine-disrupting than would be predicted by most short-term or even chronic PBDE exposure studies in laboratory rodents." They contend that cats can serve as sentinels for chronic human exposure—of both children and adults—to the persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic compounds.
"PBDEs are known to impair thyroid functioning. They have been used since the late 1970s as flame retardants in household products, including upholstered furniture, carpet padding, and electronics. During that same time period, the incidence of a cat thyroid ailment, known as feline hyperthyroidism, has risen dramatically...""PBDE concentrations in blood serum of the 23 house cats participating in the study were 20–100 times higher than the median levels of PBDEs in people living in North America, who have been shown to have the world's highest human PBDE levels. Eleven of the cats in the study suffered from feline hyperthyroidism, and the study "points the finger at the association" between the endocrine-disrupting compounds and the disease, Dye says."
"As of 2004, the lighter weight PBDEs associated with the Penta and Octa PBDE formulations used in polyurethane foam and other plastics were banned in Europe and discontinued in the U.S. However, these compounds are still found in older furniture and household furnishings, including upholstered furniture and carpeting."
If you're a renter with petroleum-based wall to wall carpets or maybe just can't afford new furniture, those high efficiency vacuum cleaners might deserve some investigation, as, based on our reading of the article, house dust is one of the major exposure routes.
Elevated PBDE Levels in Pet Cats: Sentinels for Humans?
Janice A. Dye,* Marta Venier, Lingyan Zhu, Cynthia R. Ward, Ronald A. Hites, and Linda S. Birnbaum
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Experimental Toxicology Division, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27711, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47405, and College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602
Received for review April 6, 2007
Revised manuscript received July 10, 2007
Accepted July 10, 2007
Co-incident with the introduction of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) into household materials nearly 30 years ago, feline hyperthyroidism (FH) has increased dramatically. Risk of developing FH is associated with indoor living and consumption of canned cat food. We hypothesized that increases in FH were, in part, related to increased PBDE exposure, with key routes of exposure being diet and ingestion of house dust. This study was designed to determine whether body burdens of PBDEs in hyperthyroid (HT) cats were greater than that of young or sick non-HT cats. Serum samples and clinical information were collected from 23 cats. Serum and dry and canned cat food were analyzed for PBDEs. A spectrum of BDE congeners was detected in all cats, with BDE-47, 99, 207, and 209 predominating. Mean ± standard error (and median) cumulative PBDE serum concentrations of young, old non-HT, and HT cats were 4.3 ± 1.5 (3.5), 10.5 ± 3.5 (5.9), and 12.7 ± 3.9 (6.2) ng/mL, respectively. Due to high variability within each group, no association was detected between HT cats and PBDE levels. Indicative of age- or disease-dependent changes in PBDE metabolism, BDE-47/99 ratios were inversely correlated with age, and 47/99 and 100/99 ratios in HT cats were significantly lower than those in the other cats. Overall, PBDE levels in cats were 20- to 100-fold greater than median levels in U.S. adults. Our results support the hypothesis that cats are highly exposed to PBDEs; hence, pet cats may serve as sentinels to better assess human exposure and adverse health outcomes related to low-level but chronic PBDE exposure.