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Tents and your health


Sean L
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I've recently started shopping for my first tent for hiking, while doing my research I've come across some kind of disturbing information   Regarding the use of flame retardents and the links to cancer.

 

So I have kind of a multi part question.  Does anyone know anything about this?  Is there only a risk of cancer if the tent was to catch on fire from the fumes, or could I just by laying in the tent be at risk? Is there a real chance of becoming ill from these tents or do they have to put the warning out there just in case?

Lastly, if this is a real possibility does anyone know of any companies that make tents without these retardents? 

 

 

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Without knowing anything about this particular situation, my intuition would be that you're far more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the trailhead, or from melanoma, than you are from cancer caused by tent flame retardants (versus all the other low-level carcinogens in your life).  You should try to find out (1) the mortality from this kind of cancer, and (2) how much it is increased by sleeping in a tent for X nights a year.

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I agree with Sean. I'm sure that there's more harm in the chemicals in most sunscreens and bug repellent than what you could ever absorb from a tent living in a tent everyday.

Also if your tent catches on fire, you have a bigger issue than momentary inhalation of fumes (like surviving the night potentially if you're somewhere very remote, or why you thought it was a good idea to cook/light a fire in your tent, etc)

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3 hours ago, tmountainnut said:

Also if your tent catches on fire, you have a bigger issue than momentary inhalation of fumes

That's what I was thinking. Doesn't seem like anything to worry about, and I've certainly never heard of cancer linked to tent-camping.

Hypothermia is a lot more dangerous than being in a tent. Sunburn is a lot more dangerous than sunscreen. Mosquito bites are a lot more dangerous than repellant. Being on a street is a lot more dangerous than being on a trail.

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Aaron Zagrodnick
On 11/30/2015 at 6:41 PM, Sean L said:

Is there only a risk of cancer if the tent was to catch on fire from the fumes, or could I just by laying in the tent be at risk? Is there a real chance of becoming ill from these tents or do they have to put the warning out there just in case?

Lastly, if this is a real possibility does anyone know of any companies that make tents without these retardents? 

I think it's just one of those things that you have to read up on and decide which side of the fence you'd like to sit on just like your old BPA Nalgene. Looks like there's a lot of info out there but it would appear that any concerns are related to the tent-not-on-fire means of exposure. Or on fire I suppose as well but would agree that you have a larger issue in that case. I'd prefer without personally, but after all I'm pretty sure I have a decent representation of flame retardant furniture in my home. From my understanding your normal silnylon isn't treated, and consequently my shelters are silnylon (TarpTent, Six Moon Designs) or cuben fiber (Zpacks) so inadvertently...I think I'm good! Since shelters of this type aren't treated however, there can be a legal / distribution issue - check out the Sierra Designs Elite Series tents for example with mention of the issue:

https://www.amazon.com/Sierra-Designs-Tensegrity-Elite-Tent/dp/B00UNEMQ96

http://www.sierradesigns.com/images/Tensegrity_Elite_Tents_And_CPAI.pdf

Quote

Our Elite tents are no holds barred, lightweight shelters. Using lightweight, fully Siliconized Nylon fabrics to repel water, we were able to reduce weight, greatly increase strength, and offer better UV resistance. Our Elite fabrics do not to adhere to the FR standard CPAI-84, limiting your exposure to FR chemicals. As such, these tents cannot be sold or shipped to CA, LA, MA, MI, MN, NJ or NY. 

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I think it depends upon how chemically sensitive you are.  Personally, I want the chemical free tent.  BTW, are you aware that all beds sold in the USA today MUST be treated with flame retardant chemicals unless you have a prescription from your doctor?   Land of the free! 

Since bug spray has been mentioned again(twice) and I have read about it on another thread, I want to add here (and should probably post in the appropriate thread as well) that there are natural alternatives to the chemical bug repellents.  I have something from Wyndmere Naturals, Inc. called "Insect Blend" made with lavender, peppermint, citronella, lemongrass, thyme, and cedarwood that is a concentrate.  30 drops per ounce of water - you can get 1 oz. sprayers - and you are good to go.  I find if I don't eat any refined sugar, I am not bothered by insects except in the most extreme situations.  I also do art fairs and share this natural blend with my neighbors to keep them from using the heavy duty chemicals and everyone has always been happy  with the results.   When you are young, you can tolerate more chemicals but as you get older and your body takes on a heavier and heavier load of chemicals, you reach a breaking point.  Best to avoid all chemicals as much as possible so you can stay as healthy as possible throughout your life.

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I didn't follow the issue closely, but yes, the fire retardants that had been used in tent fabrics apparently were found to be quite dangerous.  My understanding is that most mainstream mfrs have stopped using fire retardant fabric because of this (I'm positive that Sierra Designs and Big Agnes have).  Although 30 years ago I did actually witness a non-retardant tent go up in flames (and wow (!) they go fast...poof), I've always thought that using retardant was a little overkill or something.  One of those things where being a Darwin Award candidate is probably going to happen with or without an applied retardant.  Seeing that tent go poof was sobering, though.  Personally I'd rather avoid the chemical contact and gassing since tents are small enclosed spaces even though they're in the open air when used.  If it's a concern either way for you, just email the tent mfr and ask them about it...they'll tell you everything you want to know.

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