Flame Retardants

 

Introduction

Flame retardant chemicals are used in commercial and consumer products 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 consumer and building products

Major uses

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

  • Electronics
  • Building insulation
  • Polyurethane foam
  • Wire and cable
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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

Do not break down into safer chemicals in the environment

Long-range transport

Travel far from the source of release and are distributed around the world

Bio-accumulative

Build 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 rather than immediate harmful effects.

The Stockholm Convention

The Stockholm Convention is a global treaty of over 150 countries which aims to eliminate or reduce the release of POPs. The Convention has listed 22 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, used primarily as flame retardants in furniture, are structurally similar to the known human toxicants PBBs, PCBs, dioxins, and furans. 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 all 5 of these chemicals.

San Antonio Statement

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

Resources

Press: Flame Retardants

Quest to eliminate chemical flame retardants from Californian homes …

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

Another “candle standard” bites the dust

Once again, an IEC candle standard that would have led to the unnecessary use of harmful flame retardants in electronics enclosures worldwide was rejected at the interna…

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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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It all comes out in the wash

Flame retardant chemicals don’t stay put in products. A study published in Environmental Science & Technology reveals they are hitching a ride on our clothes and taki…

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Killer whales and the scientists working to save them

There is no documented case of a wild orca killing a human. It’s time we returned the favor by protecting the health, habitat, and viability of this highly intelligent, v…

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My foam exchange story: How I saved big bucks without passing the bu…

I bought my sofa in California, “home” of the TB117 standard. I know 75-94% of sofas tested contain flame retardants. And clear as day, sewn onto my couch was a TB117 lab…

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Industry funded website obscures flame retardant issues

As recent changes in regulations and increased media coverage bring deserved attention to the issue of flame retardant chemicals in consumer products, the chemical indust…

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As OSHA emphasizes safety, long term health risks fester

If you were one of millions of viewers who watched the documentary Blackfish on CNN this past week, then you know how the orca Tilikum killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Branch…

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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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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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Flame Retardants and Product Prioritization in the California Safer …

Speaker: Meredith Williams, PhD Deputy Director, California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) Event Green Scienc…

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