Campers and backpackers may want to keep track of this story as it develops. Duke University, in conjunction with REI, has conducted a study on flame retardant treatments in camping tents, which was recently published in the latest edition of Environmental Science and Technology. Although there are no clear-cut conclusions at this point, there is concern within the outdoor industry that campers and backpackers may be exposing themselves to the adverse health effects of flame retardant chemicals, including the possibility of thyroid cancer.
Currently, flame retardant chemicals are applied to tents in order to prevent or slow the spread of fire on potentially flammable materials. These are used to meet regulatory flammability requirements. Apparently there are many other consumer products that potentially could be exposing us to harmful chemicals as well.
So what can campers and backpackers do while researchers dig deeper into this issue? In a recent blog posting, REI made these recommendations for reducing your exposure to flame retardants while camping:
• Wash your hands after setting up a tent or wear gloves when setting it up.
• Use the venting systems.
• Leave the rain fly off the tent when possible, to increase ventilation.
• Avoid using heat sources inside your tent, including cooking stoves, lanterns or candles.
Long term, all of us probably need to pay closer attention to any new developments on this issue, and take action as new data becomes available.