Flame Retardants These toxic chemicals were intended to prevent fires, but are now increasing the risk of cancer.
Toxic chemicals known to cause cancer and other health effects are prevalent as flame retardants in standard household items like couches and carpet, as well as in firefighter uniforms. In past decades, many states mandated that manufacturers incorporate these chemicals into consumer products. These policies were enacted before scientists were able to determine the effects of these chemicals on health, and often with the strong support of the chemical and tobacco industries. Today, new research has called into question both the effectiveness of these chemicals–such as chlorinated tris and polybrominated diphenyl (PBDE)–and the associated health risk to consumers and firefighters.
California’s 1975 flammability standard led to manufacturers adding flame retardant chemicals to products nationwide. This standard has since been repealed and manufacturers can attain safe conditions without the use of these chemicals, and several, including Steelcase, Herman Miller, Knoll and Haworth, are voluntarily removing them from their products. You can find out more about safer alternatives that still meet fire safety standards here.
Chemical flame retardants are widely used in children’s products, and children can have up to five times higher levels of chemicals in their bodies than their mothers. These chemicals pose health risks including learning disabilities and developmental impairment. (Environmental Working Group)
Flame retardants put firefighters at higher risk for certain cancers, including 62% higher rates of esophageal cancer than the general public. The toxic smoke created by the burning of these chemicals can penetrate protective gear. (Marine & Environmental Research Institute)
- Several states have introduced targeted legislation to ban children’s products and upholstered furniture containing chlorinated Tris flame retardants (insert alphabet soup here in parentheses), including Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington.
- Legislation to establish a list of chemicals of high concern, require manufacturer disclosure and eventual removal has been introduced in Oregon and New York
- A comprehensive list of legislation regarding flame retardants is available here.
Science and Reports
The briefing book includes a concise fact sheet, examples of state legislative strategies, an FAQ page, and a list of current legislation.Download
ACAT compiled key science on flame retardants that highlights where they are found and health effects for specific chemicals.Download
Toxic-Free Future conducted a secret shopper survey to track flame retardants in home furniture and compiled the results.Read More
The Minnesota Professional Firefights Association and Healthy Legacy have created a detailed fact sheet explaining the risk that flame retardant chemicals pose to firefighters and consumers.Download
The Washington Toxics Coalition tracked the air quality of ten Washingtonians to determine if they were exposed to flame retardant chemicals and to identify which chemicals. The study found that each participant was exposed to multiple toxic flame retardant chemicals.Read More
Safer States is a network of diverse environmental health coalitions and organizations in states around the country that focus on chemical policy. The network has developed an active database of bills related to flame retardant legislation.Read More
The Rhode Island State Legislature voted earlier in September to enact a new law that bans organohalogens, a flame retardant chemical, in upholstered furniture and bedding products beginning July 1, 2019. The bill became law Wednesday, October 4 without signature from the Governor. Rhode Island now joins Maine in becoming the second state in the […]
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