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
The major uses of flame retardant chemicals by volume in the U.S. are:
Executive Director Arlene Blum introduces flame retardants and flammability standards in a 15-minute-long TEDx talk
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
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.
Does not break down into safer chemicals in the environment
Travels far from the source of release and is distributed around the world
Builds 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 (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.
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.