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

AL.com: Substitute chemicals for cancer-linked PFCs may also be harm…

A pair of long-lasting, man-made chemicals called PFOA and PFOS have generated controversy and lawsuits in recent years, worldwide and in Alabama, but a …

22 Feb 2017

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MedPage Today: Overlooked PFASs: A 'Major Concern for Society'

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), considered to be endocrine-disrupting chemicals, need better regulation because of vast market presence and…

22 Feb 2017

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The Hans India: Greasepaper packaging contains harmful chemicals

We may opt to cut back on fast food to avoid an overload of fat and calories. Yet, there is another reason to resist the temptation to indulge in fast food. The grease…

04 Feb 2017

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Times Herald-Record: Study: Toxic chemicals in Newburgh water, local…

  The family of toxic chemicals that includes the ones behind the closure of the City of Newburgh's primary water supply and the contamination of p…

02 Feb 2017

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Bloomberg: Burgers Aren’t the Only Fast-Food Products That Could Har…

  The risky chemicals that keep cooking grease from leaking out of fast-food containers are widespread, according to a peer-revie…

02 Feb 2017

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Crain's Chicago Business: Fast-food wrappers may contain dangerous c…

The risky chemicals that keep cooking grease from leaking out of fast-food containers are widespread, according to a peer-reviewed study released Wednesday. Researc…

02 Feb 2017

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Michigan Radio: Study finds fluorinated chemicals in fast food packa…

Listen A new study found fluorinated chemicals in one third of the fast food packages researchers tested. The chemicals keep oil and grease from le…

02 Feb 2017

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Fusion: Another reason to avoid fast food: Its packaging might conta…

  Fast food obviously isn’t great for your health, but a new study from the Silent Spring Institute is providing even more incentive to cut back…

01 Feb 2017

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WebMD: Many Fast-Food Containers Have Risky Chemical

  The next time you get a muffin with your coffee or pick up a hamburger at a drive-thru, you could also be getting a side of chemicals that have…

01 Feb 2017

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Fair Warning: Ketchup or PFAS With Those Fries?

   As if cheeseburgers, fries and microwave popcorn weren’t enough of a dietary worry, now comes word that fast-food packaging is also a cause for concer…

01 Feb 2017

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The Telegraph: Warning: fast food packaging and grease-proof paper c…

    Some fast food packaging contains potentially harmful chemicals that can leach into food, warns a new study.Researchers found more tha…

01 Feb 2017

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CBS SF - KPIX 5: Study: Fast Food Wrappers Contain Cancer-Causing Ch…

  You already knew fast food wasn’t the healthiest option, but a new study is revealing a new health concern, in the packaging. Fluorinated chemical…

01 Feb 2017

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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

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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Physical, Chemical and Biological Processes Governing Brominated Fla…

Speaker: Morton Barlaz, PhD Professor, North Carolina State University Event Responsible Disposal of Flame Retarded Foam and…

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PIXE for identifying halogenated flame retardants in foam

Speaker: Graham Peaslee, PhD Professor, University of Notre Dame Event Responsible Disposal of Flame Retarded Foam and Plast…

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