Flame retardant chemicals are added to many different consumer products and are associated with a variety of serious health concerns, including disruption of hormones, developmental and reproductive problems. These chemicals do not stay in products- they are found in the blood, fat and breast milk of nearly all people tested, as well being ubiquitous in wildlife and the environment worldwide.
- Are associated with endocrine disruption, immunotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, cancer, and adverse effects on fetal and child development and neurologic function
- Enter the environment through multiple pathways and are global contaminants
- Are persistent in the environment and do not break down into safer chemicals
- Tend to bioaccumulate, or build up in people and animals
- Make disposal or recycling of products to which they are added more difficult
- Create toxic, carcinogenic byproducts if burned, which may be associated with higher rates of cancer in firefighters
Flame retardant chemicals and the environment
Many halogenated flame retardants are structurally related to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and are also environmentally persistent and bioaccumulative. Because of their persistence, halogenated flame retardants have become distributed around the globe and are found at remote places where they have never been used. Furthermore, even if they are banned and no longer manufactured, chemicals already released to the environment continue to persist and spread. Though a majority of PBDEs were manufactured and used in North America, a 2013 study found PBDEs in tree bark at far-flung locations in Nepal and Tasmania, almost 10 years after their phase-out.
Size of circle is proportionate to the concentration of total PBDEs (ng/ g of lipid weight) found in tree bark at the indicated location (from data in Salamova 2013).
–Dick Luthy, Chair, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University
Halogenated flame retardants build up in wildlife and are found throughout freshwater, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems globally, with the highest levels in top of the food chain predators like birds of prey and marine mammals. Studies find that flame retardant levels are associated with altered behaviors and decreased reproductive success in some species.
- Peer reviewed paper: Halogenated flame retardants- Do the fire safety benefits justify the risks?
- San Antonio Statement on brominated and chlorinated flame retardants
- Fact sheet with references: Flame retardants in furniture- Health, environment and fire safety
- Select references: Flame retardants in vulnerable populations
- References: Furniture flame retardants and health
- References: Furniture flame retardants and environment