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

Hazardous Chemicals and Government Silence — a Dangerous Mix

Imagine this: More than six million Americans have drinking water that is poisoned by a group of closely related chemical…

26 Mar 2020

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Advocates Petition EPA to Regulate PFAS as Hazardous Waste

Community advocates in several states have jointly petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate hundreds of per- and polyfluoroalkyl s…

17 Jan 2020

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Bucks-Montco Group Joins Nationwide Petition to Designate PFAS as Ha…

Thousands of residents from Bucks and Montgomery counties have joined communities across the country in a national petition demanding that the Enviro…

16 Jan 2020

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Defense Bill Boosts Climate Resilience, Ends PFAS Foam Use

A sweeping defense bill would mandate phasing out by 2024 firefighting foam that contains chemicals linked to cancer and other hea…

10 Dec 2019

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From Science to Policy: Fighting Forever Chemicals

While working on his dissertation at the UC Berkeley School of Environmental Engineering, Tom Bruton had high hopes for developing a groundbreaking techno…

12 Oct 2019

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Scaling Mountains to Ban Toxic Chemicals in Pajamas

In this Got Science? podcast, scientist and adventurer Arlene Blum discusses her research on cancer-causing chemicals in kid’s pajamas…

24 Sep 2019

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The Woman Who Got Bromine Out of Kids’ Pajamas Fears It’s Coming Bac…

Among the technical and sometimes arcane-seeming debates at this year’s meeting of the International Code Council was one that grew surprisingly emotional:…

27 Aug 2019

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The People's Pharmacy Interview with Arlene Blum

Arlene was interviewed by Joe and Terry Graedon on the dangerous substances added to everyday products. The podcast, Show 1177: How You Can Avoid …

21 Aug 2019

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PFAS Chemicals in Food: Expert QA

Millions of people have eaten out of them: Molded fiber bowls, the popular food containers from restaurants like Chipotle and Sweetgreen. They are supp…

08 Aug 2019

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“Forever Chemical” Replacements on the Rise in the Great Lakes

As industry phases out certain toxic PFAS chemicals, the compounds are decreasing in and around the Great Lakes, but replacement chemicals—which some argue …

22 Jul 2019

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The Toxic Water Crisis That 2020 Democrats Are Still Figuring Out Ho…

So-called “forever chemicals” are tainting roughly 19 million Americans’ drinking water in 43 states. How are so few presidential ca…

04 Jun 2019

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National Academies Backs Class-based OFR Assessments in US

A National Academies report has backed a class-based approach as the "only possible practical" one for addressing organohalogen flame retardants. But a com…

16 May 2019

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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

Tackling Toxics: The Six Class Concept is Catching On

Speaker: Arlene Blum, Ph.D. Executive Director Event Flame Retardant & PFAS Dilemma 2020 Date February 7, 2020 …

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Human and Environmental Exposure to PFAS

Speaker: Anna Kärrman Professor, Örebro University, Sweden Event Flame Retardant & PFAS Dilemma 2020 Date February …

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California on PFAS: Gaining Momentum

Speaker: Anna Reade Staff Scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council Event Flame Retardant & PFAS Dilemma 2020 Dat…

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The Super Market: How Coop Denmark Led National Changes on PFAS

Speaker: Malene Teller Blume Quality Manager & Social Compliance, COOP Denmark Event Flame Retardant & PFAS Dilemma …

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Healthy Food Packaging: Human and Environmental Considerations

Speaker: Jane Muncke Managing Director, Food Packaging Forum, Switzerland Event Flame Retardant & PFAS Dilemma 2020 …

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From PBB to PFAS: A Personal Journey

Speaker: Tony Spaniola Need Our Water (NOW) Event Flame Retardant & PFAS Dilemma 2020 Date February 7, 2020 Loc…

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(I Want to Be in) The Room where It Happens: Private Code Making

Speaker: Joe Charbonnet Staff Scientist Event Flame Retardant & PFAS Dilemma 2020 Date February 7, 2020 Locatio…

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Flame Retardants, PFAS, and Fire fighters

Speaker: Graham Peaslee Professor, University of Notre Dame Event Flame Retardant & PFAS Dilemma 2020 Date February…

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Building Codes and Flame Retardants

Speaker: Joe Charbonnet, Ph.D. Staff Scientist Event Flame Retardant Campaign Meeting Date October 29, 2019 Locati…

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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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