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Flame Retardants in Vehicles

Our Institute's joint research found that flame retardants were present in 101 vehicles tested in the United States. The most prevalent flame retardant, TCIPP, was found in 99% of cars and is currently under study by the National Toxicology Program as a carcinogen. Other flame retardants detected in the cars are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and/or neurotoxins, and are persistent and bioaccumulate in humans. 

Our research

In collaboration with Duke University and the University of Toronto, we tested the air and seat foam of 101 recently manufactured vehicles across 22 brands for flame retardant chemicals. All cars contained flame retardants, including two chemicals that are on California's Proposition 65 List as cancer-causing.

About 60% of seat foam samples contained flame retardants. The flame retardants can briefly delay ignition of small fires, and when they burn, they result in additional smoke and toxic gases that can make a fire more hazardous. Such fires also produce toxic chemicals called dioxins and furans which are believed to contribute to cancer in firefighters.

Harmful flame retardants are added to vehicle interiors to meet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Standard FMVSS 302. There is a lack of data demonstrating a fire-safety benefit from meeting this standard. 

Our study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology.

What can you do?

For car owners + passengers:

  • Sign the Consumer Reports' petition on reducing the unnecessary use of flame retardants in vehicles
  • Open windows at the beginning of your drive and periodically throughout long drives
  • Minimize the use of recirculated air mode
  • Wash hands after being in car, especially before eating
  • Contact automobile manufacturers to let them know you want cars without Prop 65 chemicals and other organohalogen flame retardants
  • Purchase a child car seat that is both flame retardant- and PFAS-free (see here)

For automobile manufacturers:

  • Encourage NHTSA to update FMVSS 302 to reduce the need for flame retardants
  • Eliminate all unnecessary flame retardant usage
  • Change material designs to meet FMVSS 302 without flame retardants chemicals, e.g. tightly woven textiles that are adhered to the foam
  • Eliminate Prop 65 chemicals and organohalogen flame retardants
  • Request safer materials and increased transparency from shared suppliers
  • For a more detailed guide on removing harmful chemicals from cars, click here

For NHTSA + other policymakers:

  • Update FMVSS 302, as it is a decades-old standard without a proven benefit that leads to harmful flame retardant exposure.
    • In the interim: As children are most sensitive to flame retardant exposure, consider exempting children's car seats from FMVSS 302.
    • In the interim: Provide incentives to the automotive industry to create safer interior materials that can meet the current FMVSS 302 without the use of additive flame retardants.