Flame Retardants



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

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.


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


Build up in people and other animals, becoming most concentrated at the top of the food chain


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


Press: Flame Retardants

San Jose Mercury News: California seeks to remove toxic chemicals fr…

California took steps to reduce the toxins found in children's sleeping products and home and building supplies on Thursday, when regulators announ…

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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Sacramento Bee: An insider questions so-called science behind toxic …

Grant Gillham is a special kind of consultant, the sort chemical company executives would hire to kill legislation that seeks to ban the profitable but tox…

27 Jan 2014

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Huffington Post: Flame-retardant furniture may leave a toxic legacy

Arlene Blum was trekking in the Himalayas when new regulations to reduce the pervasiveness of flame retardants hit the books on Jan. 1 -- more than seve…

04 Jan 2014

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PBS NewsHour: Calif. law change sparks debate over use of flame reta…

Flame retardants are commonplace in most upholstered furniture to help prevent house fires. But studies have linked the chemicals to cancer and fertility problems, prompting California to change t…

01 Jan 2014

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Scientific American: Cancer-linked flame retardants eased out of fur…

When the clock strikes midnight on December 31, new regulations kick into effect that may help usher in an era of less pervasive flame retardants in o…

31 Dec 2013

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The Doctor Oz Show: The toxic flame retardants in your home right no…

Toxic flame-retardant chemicals can be found in your chairs, sofas – even your baby furniture. Investigative reporter Elisabeth Leamy joins Dr. Oz to sound the alarm on their dangers with the help…

19 Dec 2013

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Huffington Post: New furniture standard to reduce toxic flame retard…

In the midst of increasing information about the ubiquity of our exposure to industrial flame retardants, the revision of a 40-year-old furniture flammabi…

13 Dec 2013

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Sustainable Industries: The problem with chemical flame retardants

If you worked from the assumption that a majority of the more than 80,000 chemicals released into the environment have been tested for human and environmen…

05 Dec 2013

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L.A. Times: New furniture standards remove harmful flame retardants

Upholstered furniture sold in California is about to get safer, especially for children. On Jan. 1, new state flammability standards will take effect …

30 Nov 2013

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New York Times: Danger lurks in that Mickey Mouse couch

Researchers this summer purchased 42 children’s chairs, sofas and other furniture from major retailers and tested them for toxic flame retardants …

24 Nov 2013

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Chicago Tribune: Toxic flame retardants may be on way out

For decades, U.S. manufacturers have filled upholstered furniture with pounds of toxic chemicals to comply with a flammability standard …

22 Nov 2013

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Science & Policy Blog: Flame Retardants

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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Ten years later, flame retardant ban good news for baby

A new study published today in Environmental Science & Technology has some good news for a change. The authors found dramatic declines in the levels of toxic flame re…

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World sees the light and bans HBCD. US stays in the dark.

In a historic decision, over 100 governments from around the world have agreed to list HBCD (hexabromocyclododecane) for global elimination. This ban means you can’t prod…

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Flame retardants in 3D: A clearer picture of their harmful ways

The harmful effects of bisphenol A (more commonly known as BPA) have been widely publicized lately. It is a known endocrine (hormone)-disruptor and is believed to be asso…

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Dangerous inheritance: When chemicals pass from mom to baby

I can only imagine the joy parents must feel when they look at their baby’s face and see something of themselves in it. My own father proudly takes credit for my blue eye…

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Presentations: Flame Retardants

Responsible disposal of flame retarded furniture foam

Speaker: Stephen Naylor, PhD, Science and Policy Associate, Green Science Policy Institute Event Flame Ret…

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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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From the Flame Retardant Dilemma to Toxic Hot Seat

Speaker: Kirby Walker, http://siedc.org/wp/ Director and Producer of Toxic Hot Seat 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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The mass and flows of the mountains of flame retardants in our midst

Speaker: Miriam Diamond, University of Toronto, Canada Event Flame Retardant Dilemma Symposium Date & Time Friday, A…

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