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

Huffington Post: Would you like flame retardants with that couch?

Most of Aimee Robinson's customers are moms. And more of them are starting to ask questions about the contents of the couches and chairs she constructs.…

21 Jul 2014

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Houston Chronicle: Chem-free beds are doctor's orders

Article includes this section on the Safer Sofa Foam Exchange: The demand for cleaner furnishings across the country is leading to some other unconven…

04 Jul 2014

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SF Chronicle: Program seeks to get harmful chemicals out of furnitur…

When Lori Yonelunas decided to detoxify her life, she knew she had to do something about her toxic leather couch but was reluctant to get rid of it.…

18 Jun 2014

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Philly.com GreenSpace: New standard cutting flame-retardant chemical…

In the market for some new furniture? That couch or armchair is changing - for the better, many health and environmental advocates say. For that, we c…

08 Jun 2014

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Huffington Post: Kaiser Permanente pledges to stop buying flame-reta…

The push to rid our bodies and the environment of toxic flame retardants just got a powerful boost from a major health care system, according to experts…

03 Jun 2014

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U-Tech Polyurethane: Foam exchange programme to replace flame retard…

San Francisco, California – A programme called the Safer Sofa Foam Exchange is offering to replace flame-retarded foam in furniture with what the Green Sci…

29 May 2014

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SF Chronicle: Hazardous flame retardants ubiquitous in preschools

Flame retardants are ubiquitous at preschools and day care centers, potentially exposing children to chemicals that are hazardous to their health, U…

15 May 2014

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More Magazine: The 4th annual Fierce List – Sofa, so good

More Magazine published their 4th annual "Fierce List", profiling "Fifty women so forceful and resourceful, untiring and inspiring, they'll jolt your brain, bolster your faith, and feed your soul." Th…

01 May 2014

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CBS5 ConsumerWatch: Chemical-free couch foam now available

Couch owners who want to limit their exposure to flame retardant chemicals now have a new option. The Safer Sofa Foam Exchange is a new program that helps consumers replace the old foam in thei…

22 Apr 2014

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San Jose Mercury News: Berkeley scientist battles toxic sofas to pro…

The banner that Arlene Blum unfurled in 1976 on the 24,500-foot mark of the world's highest mountain had an image of two petri dishes and an obscure mess…

18 Mar 2014

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Chicago Tribune: Surgeon rebuked for flame-retardant falsehoods

In a stern rebuke of a noted surgeon, the state of Washington has issued disciplinary charges against Dr. David Heimbach, who told lawma…

13 Mar 2014

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Scientific American: Do we need flame retardants in electronics?

Fear of fires, especially from lit cigarettes, helped ignite the decades-long practice of adding fire retardant chemicals to furniture and other house…

28 Jan 2014

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Science & Policy Blog: Flame Retardants

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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HBCD alternatives assessment: narrow focus misses large problems

Polymeric flame retardant evaluated as HBCD alternative in Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment (EPA DfE) assessment presents unknown risks and po…

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Giants of industry move toward healthier products

It started in 2012 when Johnson & Johnson pledged to eliminate phthalates, triclosan, formaldehyde and parabens from its product line which includes Aveeno, Neutrogen…

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Are flame retardants the secret ingredient in your home-cooked meals…

A new study has found that brominated flame retardants are present in black thermo cups and kitchen utensils bought in Europe. These types of chemicals have been linked t…

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Presentations: Flame Retardants

Sustainability Essentials: Fire Safety Without Harm

Speaker: Arlene Blum, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Chemistry, UC Berkeley, Green Science Policy Institute April 17, 2014 Webinar for the Sustainable Furnishings Council

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Healthy Buildings: Reducing the use of flame retardants and the "Si…

Speaker: Arlene Blum, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Chemistry, UC Berkeley, Green Science Policy Institute Event US Green Building C…

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Responsible disposal of flame retarded furniture foam

Speaker: Stephen Naylor, PhD, Science and Policy Associate, Green Science Policy Institute Event Flame Retardant Dilemma Symp…

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California’s Safer Consumer Product Program: Opportunities to affect…

Speaker: Debbie Raphael, Director, California Department of Toxic Substances Control Event Flame Retardant Dilemma Symposium …

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Do flame retardants impact men's hormones?

Speaker: Susan Kasper, PhD, Associate Professor, Environmental Health, University of Cincinnati Event Flame Retardant Dilemma…

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Fire safety without harm: New California flammability standards

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

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Six classes webinar 3: Flame retardants

Speaker: Arlene Blum, Ph.D. Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute Visiting Scholar in Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley [toggle header="More …

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Organic flame retardants can have effects in wildlife: An avian outc…

Speaker: Robert Letcher, National Wildlife Research Centre, Carleton University, Canada Event Flame Retardant Dilemma Symposi…

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Flame retardants and health risks: From marine mammals to firefighte…

Speaker: Susan Shaw, Marine Environmental Research Institute, USA Event Flame Retardant Dilemma Symposium Date & Time…

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Flammability standard challenges in California and beyond

Speaker: Veena Singla, Green Science Policy Institute, USA Event Flame Retardant Dilemma Symposium Date & Time Frida…

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Flame retardants in tree bark from around the globe

Speaker: Amina Salamova, Indiana University, USA and Azerbaijan Event Flame Retardant Dilemma Symposium Date & Time …

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The policy-maker’s dilemma: what happens when you find flame retarda…

Speaker: David Mortimer, Chemical Safety Division, Food Standards Agency, UK Event Flame Retardant Dilemma Symposium Date…

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