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

Chemical Watch: PFCs in drinking water link to human blood levels

Californian researchers have found a possible link between blood levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), in the general population, and concentratio…

15 Jun 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 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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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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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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Science & Policy Blog: Flame Retardants

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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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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Presentations: Flame Retardants

Healthy Building Network - HomeFree

Speaker: Gina Ciganik Senior Advisor of Housing Innovation, Healthy Building Network Event Six Classes Toxics Reduction Retr…

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The Chemical Class Approach towards Healthier Products and Materials…

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

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Reducing Toxics at the Local Level

Speaker: Jen Jackson Toxics Reduction & Healthy Ecosystems Programs Manager, San Francisco Department of the Environment …

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California's Safer Consumer Products Regulations

Speaker: Meredith Williams Deputy Director, Safer Products and Workplaces, California Department of Toxic Substances Control …

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What Can Government Achieve Using the Class Concept: The EU Case

Speaker: Bjorn Hansen Director of Chemicals Unit, Environment Directorate-General of the European Commission Event Six Class…

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Six Classes: Problems and Possibilities

Speaker: Terry Collins Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry, Institute for Green Science, Carnegie Mellon University Eve…

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Classes 4 - 6: Overview & Updates

Speaker: Avery Lindeman Deputy Director, Green Science Policy Institute Event Six Classes Toxics Reduction Retreat 2016 …

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Greening the Supply Chain: The journey toward safer alternatives

Speaker: Jennifer MacDaniel Project Principal, Kaiser Permanente Event Six Classes Toxics Reduction Retreat 2016 Date S…

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"Late lessons from early warnings 1896-2013“: some implications for …

Speaker: David Gee Visiting Fellow, Institute of Environment, Health and Societies, Brunel University Event Six Classes Toxi…

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Flame Retardants in Upholstered Furniture: History and Implications

Speaker: Arlene Blum Visiting Scholar, University of California Berkeley; Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute …

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Design and Operation of Landfills

Speaker: Morton Barlaz Professor and Head of Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, North Carolina State University [toggle header="More abo…

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U.S. Solid Waste Management Infrastructure

Speaker: Morton Barlaz Professor and Head of Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, North Carolina State University [toggle header="More abo…

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