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

TIME: You Asked: Can My Couch Give Me Cancer?

  Cancer is just one of many health concerns linked to the chemical treatments used in furniture. Ask a public health scientist about couches and canc…

24 Aug 2016

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CBS Local: California Kids Have Higher Levels Of Flame Retardant Che…

Watch Just weeks after congress passed a law giving the Environmental Protection Agency more power to ban harmful chemicals; a new study demonstrates just …

11 Jul 2016

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CNN: Dangerous chemicals hiding in everyday products

Watch Video It was long believed that you could acquire "better living through chemistry." But that may really not be the case. In a landmark alliance, kn…

01 Jul 2016

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Chemical Watch: US House considers modifying flammability standards …

Congressman Jared Huffman (D–California) has introduced legislation to revise the federal flammability standard for children's car seats. This would al…

03 Jun 2016

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KALW Your Call Radio: Toxic chemicals lurking in your home

Listen From flame retardant furniture to cleaning supplies, our homes harbor countless chemicals. Due to gaps in US regulations, the health and environmental…

06 Apr 2016

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AJ+: Is Your House Toxic?

Watch Video The shampoo in your shower, the foam in your mattress, your TV, couch, carpet, pillows...chemicals are everywhere. And they aren't all safe. …

25 Mar 2016

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Science Magazine: Tackling Toxics

Most Americans believe that if a chemical is in their cosmetics, their coat, or their couch, someone is making sure it's safe for their health. In reality…

11 Mar 2016

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Dr. Oz Show: Are there carcinogens in children's pajamas?

Watch Video By law, children's pajamas have to meet flammability standards to keep your kids safe from fires. And, people are asking questions a…

09 Mar 2016

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Chemical Watch: Kaiser Permanente: managing chemicals of concern

Kaiser Permanente has recently committed to phasing out the use of per- and polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in its furnishings, removing flame retardant…

01 Feb 2016

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CBS: Popular car seats found to contain flame retardant

Watch Video Limiting a child's exposure to toxic chemicals is a big issue for many parents, but finding eco-friendly products may cost more than a thousand …

21 Dec 2015

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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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Science & Policy Blog: Flame Retardants

A Day in the Life at GSP: Veronica Chin

Out with the old, in with the new! Swapping old couches for new ones sounds simple enough. But when you’re doing it for twelve homes it gets complicated - phone calls, de…

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Forty years later TSCA gets an overhaul

In June, President Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (TSCA reform, hereafter), a revision to the 1976 Toxic Substance…

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Monitoring chemicals in our environment with wristbands

Whether to show support for a cause or track daily activity, wristbands and tracking bracelets have become a trendy modern accessory. Why Monitor? Six Classes and…

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A Perfect Storm

The phrase “a perfect storm” has gone from wildly popular to wildly unpopular. Detractors say it should be banned due to overuse. But it’s not banned yet. A perfec…

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Lead in Water Action Kits Now Available

We’ve heard the stories about lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan. The situation is appalling, infuriating, heartbreaking. But, as NY Times columnist Nick Kristof write…

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“Remove the Handle” – Calling on the CPSC to Turn Off the Toxic Pump

Should you ever find yourself enjoying a pint at London’s John Snow Pub, you might raise a glass to the pub’s namesake, Dr. John Snow, the “father of epidemiology.” In th…

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Backfire: Unintended Consequences of Flame Retardants

Fun fact. Combustion scientist, Donald Lucas, started his career doing research at temperatures near absolute zero (−430°F) before working in combustion, where temperatur…

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The Nature of the Beast

This article is the second installment of our blog series, “Scientist Spotlight: The Scientists Behind our Consumer Products Petition." [caption id="attachment_7812" a…

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Presentations: Flame Retardants

Accumulation of Perfluoroalkyl Acids in Food Crops

Speaker: Christopher Higgins Associate Professor, Colorado School of Mines Event Webinar: Highly Fluorinated Chemicals: A St…

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Tackling Toxics: The “Six Classes” Approach Towards Healthier Produc…

Speaker: Arlene Blum Research Associate, Chemistry, UC Berkeley; Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute Event We…

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Tackling Toxics: The “Six Classes” Approach Towards Healthier Produc…

Speaker: Arlene Blum Visiting Scholar, Chemistry, UC Berkeley; Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute Event The …

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Denmark's Largest Retailer Shares the Business Case for Phasing Out …

Speaker: Malene Teller-Blume Nonfood Quality and CSR Manager, Coop Denmark Event The Flame Retardant Dilemma and Beyond …

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Local Action and Fluorinated Compounds

Speaker: Jen Jackson, MA Toxics Reduction and Healthy Ecosystems Program Manager, SF Department of the Environment Event The…

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Flame Retardants: Benefits versus Harm

Speaker: Arlene Blum, PhD Visiting Scholar, Chemistry, UC Berkeley and Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute Eve…

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Toward Responsible Disposal of Couches and TVs

Speaker: Sara Petty, PhD Senior Research Scientist, Green Science Policy Institute Event The Flame Retardant Dilemma and Bey…

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How Safety Standards May Impact Use of Flame Retardants

Speaker: Avery Lindeman, MSc Deputy Director, Green Science Policy Institute Event The Flame Retardant Dilemma and Beyond …

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Flame retardants in upholstered furniture

Speaker: Arlene Blum, PhD Visiting Scholar, Chemistry, UC Berkeley and Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute Eve…

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Towards Responsible Disposal

Speaker: Sara Petty, PhD Senior Scientist, Green Science Policy Institute Event Responsible Disposal of Flame Retarded Foam …

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Thermal Processing of FRs - A real solution or more problems?

Speaker: Donald Lucas, PhD Combustion Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Event Responsible Disposal of Flame R…

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Influence of environmental factors on the aqueous leaching of flame …

Speaker: Rob Hale, PhD Professor, Department of Aquatic Animal Health, Virginia Institute of Marine Science Event Responsibl…

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