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

Should You Be Concerned About PFAS Chemicals?

A group of substances known as PFAS chemicals are behind a variety of everyday conveniences that make our lives a little bit easier. They line pizza boxes an…

08 Apr 2019

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Contaminated Groundwater, a Toxic Legacy of Georgia’s Air Bases

For decades, the United States Air Force used a toxic firefighting foam that contaminated water near bases and exposed communities to chemicals linked to cance…

03 Jan 2019

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For 10 Years, a Chemical Not EPA Approved Was in Their Drinking Wate…

For 10 years, some residents in Denmark, South Carolina, have been suspicious of the rust-colored water coming from their taps. They've been collecting sampl…

28 Nov 2018

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Your Questions About PFAS, Answered.

Tom Bruton is a scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute. He joined Stateside to discuss what makes PFAS chemicals so difficult to clean up. T…

16 Oct 2018

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Deal Would Allow Airports to Stop Using PFAS-containing Foams

A provision in legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration would allow airports to use firefighting foams that don't contain fluori…

08 Oct 2018

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'What did we do?' Families Anxious about Chemicals Found in Tap Wate…

It's been about three weeks since Tammy Cooper last drank water from her tap. That's when she saw a warning on Facebook for residents of her small Western…

16 Aug 2018

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Multinational Insulation Manufacturers Phase Out Flame Retardant HBC…

Multinational manufacturers Dow, Owens Corning and Kingspan have phased out halogenated flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) from their building…

19 Jul 2018

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Quartz: The US government is finally acknowledging the flame retarda…

The US agency in charge of protecting consumer safety just took the first step towards banning a class of flame retardants that were, up until very recent…

10 Oct 2017

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Chicago Tribune: Federal panel votes to warn public about flame reta…

For the first time a federal agency is moving to outlaw an entire class of toxic flame retardants, a policy change intended to protect Americans from …

20 Sep 2017

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TIME: You Asked: Can My Couch Give Me Cancer?

  Cancer is just one of many health concerns linked to the chemical treatments used in furniture. Ask a public health scientist about couches and canc…

24 Aug 2016

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CBS Local: California Kids Have Higher Levels Of Flame Retardant Che…

Watch Just weeks after congress passed a law giving the Environmental Protection Agency more power to ban harmful chemicals; a new study demonstrates just …

11 Jul 2016

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CNN: Dangerous chemicals hiding in everyday products

Watch Video It was long believed that you could acquire "better living through chemistry." But that may really not be the case. In a landmark alliance, kn…

01 Jul 2016

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Science & Policy Blog: Flame Retardants

A Day in the Life at GSP: Veronica Chin

Out with the old, in with the new! Swapping old couches for new ones sounds simple enough. But when you’re doing it for twelve homes it gets complicated - phone calls, de…

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Forty years later TSCA gets an overhaul

In June, President Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (TSCA reform, hereafter), a revision to the 1976 Toxic Substance…

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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, and heartbreaking. And lead is only one of the industrial ch…

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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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Presentations: Flame Retardants

Why Do Fire Fighters Support the Banning of Flame Retardants?

Speaker: Jay Fleming Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts Event The Flame Retardant Dilemma and Beyond 2018 Date …

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Improving Policy & Purchasing: Communicating about Organohalogens

Green Science Policy Institute Event Workshop Prior to DIOXIN 2017: Science and Policy of Organohalogens Date Sunday, Aug…

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Flame Retardants: Benefits versus Harm

Speaker: Arlene Blum, PhD Visiting Scholar, Chemistry, UC Berkeley and Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute Eve…

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Toward Responsible Disposal of Couches and TVs

Speaker: Sara Petty, PhD Senior Research Scientist, Green Science Policy Institute Event The Flame Retardant Dilemma and Bey…

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How Safety Standards May Impact Use of Flame Retardants

Speaker: Avery Lindeman, MSc Deputy Director, Green Science Policy Institute Event The Flame Retardant Dilemma and Beyond …

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Flame retardants in upholstered furniture

Speaker: Arlene Blum, PhD Visiting Scholar, Chemistry, UC Berkeley and Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute Eve…

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Towards Responsible Disposal

Speaker: Sara Petty, PhD Senior Scientist, Green Science Policy Institute Event Responsible Disposal of Flame Retarded Foam …

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Thermal Processing of FRs - A real solution or more problems?

Speaker: Donald Lucas, PhD Combustion Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Event Responsible Disposal of Flame R…

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Influence of environmental factors on the aqueous leaching of flame …

Speaker: Rob Hale, PhD Professor, Department of Aquatic Animal Health, Virginia Institute of Marine Science Event Responsibl…

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Physical, Chemical and Biological Processes Governing Brominated Fla…

Speaker: Morton Barlaz, PhD Professor, North Carolina State University Event Responsible Disposal of Flame Retarded Foam and…

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PIXE for identifying halogenated flame retardants in foam

Speaker: Graham Peaslee, PhD Professor, University of Notre Dame Event Responsible Disposal of Flame Retarded Foam and Plast…

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Flame Retardants in Upholstered Furniture: History and Implications

Speaker: Arlene Blum University of California, Berkeley and Green Science Policy Institute, U.S. Event Management of Waste F…

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