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

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 risks of thousands of chemicals remain…

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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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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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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Science & Policy Blog: Flame Retardants

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

Rolf Halden: halogenated flame retardants contaminate natural resources and our bodies Rolf Halden is a professor at Arizona State University, adjunct faculty at John …

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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

UPDATE: Thank you very much for your interest in the study. The study is full and we are not collecting any more participants at this time. ------------ Do you live i…

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Presentations: Flame Retardants

Six Classes: Beyond Flame Retardants

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

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Highly Fluorinated Substances: Our Evolving Challenge

Speaker: Andrew Lindstrom, PhD U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Event The Flame Retardant Dilemma and Beyond Date …

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Inventing Green Chemistry Alternatives to the “Six Classes” of Harmf…

Speaker: John Warner, PhD President, Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry Event The Flame Retardant Dilemma and Beyo…

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Healthier Materials = Healthier Lives, the Next Chapter of Affordabl…

Speaker: Gina Ciganik Advisor of Housing Innovation at Healthy Building Network Event The Flame Retardant Dilemma and Beyond…

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A History of Thermal Insulation Regulations in California

Speaker: Justin Paddock, JD Chief, California Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (BEARHFTI) [toggle header="More about …

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Flame Retardant Dilemma and Beyond

Speaker: Joseph Fleming Deputy Chief, Boston Fire Department Event The Flame Retardant Dilemma and Beyond Date & Tim…

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Open Flame Regulations and the Furniture Industry - Another Challeng…

Speaker: Dave Panning, MS, MBA Technical Director, Business & Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) Event…

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Six Classes: Policy and Purchasing for Healthier Products

Speaker: Arlene Blum, PhD Visiting Scholar, UC Berkeley; Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute Event Beyond the…

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Progress on the New California Flammability Standard

Speaker: Justin Paddock, JD Chief, California Bureau of Electronics Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (BEARHFTI) [toggle header="More about thi…

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Constructing Chemical Groups for Biomonitoring in California

Speaker: Gail Krowech, PhD Staff Toxicologist, CA Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment Event Beyond the Flame Re…

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Issues around Flame Retardants in Furniture in the European Union

Speaker: Roberta Dessi, LLM Secretary General, European Furniture Industries Confederation (EFIC) Event Beyond the Flame Ret…

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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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