Flame Retardants

 

Introduction

Flame retardant chemicals are used in commercial and consumer products (like furniture and building insulation) to meet flammability standards. Not all flame retardants present concerns, but the following types often do:

  • Halogenated flame retardants (also known as organohalogen flame retardants) containing chlorine or bromine bonded to carbon.
  • Organophosphorous flame retardants containing phosphorous bonded to carbon.

For these types of flame retardants:

  • Some are associated with health and environmental concerns
  • Many are inadequately tested for safety
  • They provide questionable fire safety benefits as used in some products

Major uses

The major uses of flame retardant chemicals by volume in the U.S. are:

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Executive Director Arlene Blum introduces flame retardants and flammability standards in a 15-minute-long TEDx talk

 

Six Classes

In addition to flame retardants, there are five other families or “classes” of chemicals which contain many of the harmful substances that are found in everyday products.
Visit sixclasses.org to learn more.

Toxic Hot Seat

This landmark 2013 documentary is now available for online viewing via HBO Go.
Click here for more information

How do we come in contact with flame retardant chemicals?

Exposure graphic chems of concern

Properties of Concern

Organohalogen and organophosphorous flame retardants often have one or more of the following properties of concern. Chemicals with all these properties are considered Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and present significant risks to human health and environment.

Persistent

Does not break down into safer chemicals in the environment

Long-range transport

Travels far from the source of release and is distributed around the world

Bio-accumulative

Builds up in people and other animals, becoming most concentrated at the top of the food chain

Toxic

Harmful to life. Flame retardants often have long-term (chronic) rather than immediate harmful effects.

The Stockholm Convention

The Stockholm Convention is a global treaty between over 150 countries which aims to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs. The Convention has listed 23 chemicals to be banned globally, all of which are organohalogens, and several of which are organohalogen flame retardants or their by-products.

related structures landscape
PBDEs, a class of chemicals used primarily as flame retardants in furniture and plastics, are structurally similar to the known human toxicants PBBs, PCBs, dioxins, and furans, all of which have been banned under the Stockholm Convention. In addition to having similar mechanisms of toxicity in animal studies, they also bio-accumulate in both humans and animals and persist in the environment. The Stockholm Convention has banned certain PBDEs and will consider banning additional PBDEs.

San Antonio Statement

The San Antonio Statement on Brominated and Chlorinated Flame Retardants documents the scientific consensus about health, environmental and fire safety concerns associated with the use of these chemicals. It was signed by more than 150 scientists. Learn more
san-antonio

Resources

Press: Flame Retardants

Guardian: Quest to eliminate chemical flame retardants from Californ…

A California regulation effectively eliminated the need for chemical flame retardants in furniture in November 2013. Two years later, though, experts s…

15 May 2015

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New York Times and Retro Report: A Flame Retardant That Came With It…

This New York Times article, featuring a video by Retro Report, concisely recounts the flame retardant saga. If you closely examine your living room cou…

03 May 2015

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Environmental Science & Technology: My New Sofa

After a long wait, my new sofa has finally arrived. Some visitors to our home might have mistakenly thought that we were holding onto our comfortable …

23 Apr 2015

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The Harvard Crimson: Scientist Discusses Health, Campus Sustainabili…

Scientist and public health advocate Arlene D. Blum discussed her research and advocacy work surrounding “harmful” chemicals found in consumer produ…

10 Apr 2015

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Michigan Public Radio Environment Report: Furniture Makers Getting R…

This week, we’re bringing you a series of stories about firefighters and cancer. Firefighters say they’re worried about getting exposed to certain ki…

09 Apr 2015

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Alaska Beyond Magazine: Green Trailblazers

In January 1977, biophysical chemist Arlene Blum and biochemist Bruce Ames, both of the University of California, Berkeley, published an article in the…

01 Apr 2015

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Reed Magazine: Peak Chemist Takes Eliot Award

Reed is proud to announce that mountaineer, chemist, and environmental advocate Arlene Blum ’66 will be honored with the Thomas Lamb Eliot Award, recognizin…

18 Mar 2015

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Chicago Tribune: Furniture firms shun flame retardants but some toxi…

New safety regulations allow upholstered furniture to be made without flame retardants, but consumers may find it difficult to tell whether a retail…

23 Jan 2015

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SFGate: Chemicals' phaseout a 'success story' for S.F. Bay wildlife

Ten years after government regulations forced an industry phaseout of once common but toxic flame retardants, a new study of San Francisco Bay has shown a st…

28 Dec 2014

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LA Times: How I Made It: Arlene Blum

The Gig: Arlene Blum is a California scientist, educator, author and an international mountain climber. Her work has helped eliminate dangerous fire reta…

07 Dec 2014

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The Sacramento Bee: Concern grows in firefighters, others after canc…

A growing body of evidence found an array of flame-retardant chemicals – many which are carcinogenic – in test participants, a potential health concern f…

30 Nov 2014

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Counsel & Heal: Researchers Identified Flame Retardant, TCEP in Amer…

Americans are contaminated with many toxic flame retardants, a new study reported. According to the researchers at the Silent Spring Institute and the Uni…

12 Nov 2014

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Science & Policy Blog: Flame Retardants

The Proof is in the Sewage: Can Harmful Chemicals Move from Sofas to…

  This article is the first installment of our blog series, “Scientist Spotlight: The Scientists Behind our Consumer Products Petition." Rolf Halden: halogenated…

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Introducing Our Blog Series "Scientist Spotlight: The Scientists Beh…

Imagine you are reclining on your couch and turning on a horror movie. Did you know that the flame retardants in your couch may be scarier than the monster on the screen?…

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What’s in your house dust? Study Participants Wanted

Do you live in Northern California? Are you planning to buy a new couch or swap out your old foam cushions for new, flame retardant-free furnishings within the next ye…

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Flame Retardants in Car Seats—Do We Need Them?

Car seats are essential to protecting children in cars. Due to a federal motor vehicle flammability standard, many materials in automobiles, including car seats, contain …

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Chemical Industry Insider Comes Clean

“Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus” “False in one, false in all” is the legal principle that says a witness who willfully falsifies one matter is not credible on any ma…

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Another “candle standard” bites the dust

Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 @Catalin Besleaga Once again, an IEC candle standard that would have led …

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Phosphate flame retardants: Bad to the bone?

If you go to the CDC’s ToxGuide it will tell you that data suggest Phosphate Ester Flame Retardants are widely distributed throughout the human body. You’ll also find thi…

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HBCD is on the way out – but use of questionable alternatives will p…

This week, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving. But internationally, countries that have signed the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants have a dif…

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Presentations: Flame Retardants

Biomonitoring for Flame Retardants: How Pervasive is Exposure and wh…

Speaker: Sharyle Patton, Director, Biomonitoring Resource Center, Bolinas, California, USA Event Science & Policy of Flame Re…

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Flame Retardants in China: Use in the Electronics Industry, Contami…

Speaker: Cheng Qian, LL.B., M.Phil. and Mengjiao (Melissa) Wang, Ph.D. Toxics Assistant Campaign Manager, Greenpeace East Asia; Research Scientist, Greenpeace Research …

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Science and Advocacy: Flame Retardants as a Case Study

Speaker: Tom Webster, D.Sc., Dept. of Environmental Health, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA USA Event S…

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Why is the Use of Flame Retardants in Consumer Products in the Unite…

Speaker: Erika Schreder, M.S., Science Director, Washington Toxics Coalition, Washington, USA Event Science & Policy of Flame…

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Chemical Management Policy Issues in China: Social and Economic Anal…

Speaker: Jianguo Liu, Ph.D., College of Environmental Sciences & Engineering, Peking University, Beijing, P. R. China Event S…

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Can Science Drive Policy? A Personal History of Finding PBDEs in Cal…

Speaker: Myrto Petreas, Ph.D., M.P.H., Chief, Environmental Chemistry Branch, CA Dept. of Toxic Substances Control, Berkeley, CA USA [toggle header="More about this eve…

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Fire Safety without Harm: Changing Flammability Regulations

Speaker: Arlene Blum, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Chemistry, UC Berkeley, Green Science Policy Institute Event Science & Policy of…

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Fire Safety Without Harm: California's Changing Flammability Regulat…

Speaker: Arlene Blum, Ph.D., Visiting Scholar, Chemistry, UCB; Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute, Berkeley, CA USA [toggle header="More about this even…

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Flame Retardant Science and the Furniture Industry – A Success Story

Speaker: David Panning, MS, MBA, Business & Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association Event Flame Retardant Dilemma S…

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The Flame Retardant Dilemma Series as an Example of Science-Driven P…

Speaker: Claudia Polsky, JD, Deputy Attorney General, California Department of Justice Event Flame Retardant Dilemma Symposiu…

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We Built This City on HFRs: Initiatives to Reduce Flame Retardants i…

Speaker: Avery Lindeman, MSc, Deputy Director, Green Science Policy Institute Event Flame Retardant Dilemma Symposium Dat…

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The Class Concept: A New Way of Looking at Flame Retardants and Othe…

Speaker: Arlene Blum, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Chemistry, UC Berkeley, Green Science Policy Institute Event Flame Retardant Dil…

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