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Flame Retardants 2017-09-18T17:32:07+00:00

Flame retardants are added to products to meet flammability standards. They often don’t improve fire safety and can harm our health.

What are they?

Flame retardants are chemicals that are supposed to slow ignition and prevent fires. They are used to meet flammability regulations. Flame retardants of concern include organohalogen and organophosphate chemicals such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and chlorinated tris (TDCPP).

Where are they found?

Flame retardants are used in furniture, children’s products, electronics, building materials, wire and cable, etc. Learn more about products that may contain flame retardants.

What are the health concerns?

Some flame retardants are associated with lowered IQ and hyperactivity in children as well as cancer, hormone disruption, and decreased fertility in adults.

How are we exposed?

Flame retardants continually migrate out of products and into indoor dust which is ingested by people. Flame retardants have been detected in the bodies of nearly all people tested. Due to hand-to-mouth behavior and crawling, toddlers have the highest levels. Additionally, because of widespread environmental contamination, flame retardants are found in our food supply.

What are the environmental concerns?

Flame retardants are released from products into soil, rivers, and oceans where they are persistent pollutants and can bioaccumulate up food chains. These chemicals are found at particularly high levels in marine mammals and can be associated with adverse health effects in these and other species.

Should they be used?

The use of flame retardants in furniture, children’s products, electronics enclosures, and building materials provides limited fire safety benefit. For example, research shows they often delay ignition only a few seconds and can make a fire more toxic. Preventing ignition with fire-safe products such as cigarettes, candles, lighters and smoke detectors, sprinkler systems, etc. is a more effective and healthier way to prevent fires. When flame retardants are indeed necessary, manufacturers should develop more benign alternatives through materials innovation and green chemistry.

What Can You Do?

  • When buying upholstered furniture, look for a TB117-2013 label stating the item does not contain flame retardants.

  • Replace upholstered furniture with a TB117 label.

  • Furniture and children’s products filled with polyester or wool instead of foam are unlikely to contain added flame retardants.

  • To reduce indoor dust levels, vacuum with a HEPA filter, wet mop, dust with a damp cloth.

  • Wash hands often, especially before eating or preparing food.

  • Avoid using rebonded carpet padding made from recycled or scrap polyurethane foam.

  • Tell manufacturers, retailers, and government agencies you want products without flame retardants.

Other Videos on Flame Retardants

Webcast introducing the new Flame Retardants video featuring conversation with Ken Cook, Mark Leno, and Arlene Blum.

Introduction to Flame Retardants:                                 Arlene Blum, Green Science Policy Institute

Materials & Health: Reducing the Use of Flame Retardants and the “Six Classes” of Harmful Chemicals

Where have all the toxic chemicals gone?                           Arlene Blum at TEDxWellesleyCollege

Resources

  • The San Antonio Statement on Brominated and Chlorinated Flame RetardantsThe San Antonio Statement documents the scientific consensus about health, environmental and fire safety concerns associated with the use of organohalogen flame retardants. This consensus statement has over 200 signatories from 30 countries, representing expertise on health, environment and fire safety.