Flame retardant reference material, Edition 3

Flame retardants, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), are abundant in modern society- from clothing and carpets to couches and computers - they are added to a wide range of every day products in an attempt to reduce flammability or delay combustion. The name implies that they convey safety, but to the contrary they have been associated with numerous adverse and bio-accumulative health effects, including endocrine disruption, infertility, birth defects, lowered IQs, behavioral problems, and cancers. Ironically, when alight the toxic soup of burning chemicals and byproducts released, such as dioxins, furans and formaldehyde, can be more hazardous than the fire itself.


Additionally, flame retardants persist in the environment – in water and soil – build up in wildlife, enter the food chain and are now global persistent organic pollutants (POPs) of concern. Despite of the environmental and toxicological concerns, they are, and will for some time remain abundant in many consumer goods. Since disclosure of their use is unregulated many consumers remain unaware of their existence or the hazards they pose.


Halogenated flame retardants, and particularly the brominated ones has been used for decades, but only after around year 2000 the concern was raised. The number of commercial flame retardants has been rather limited, under 100 in total. New flame retardants containing various phosphor-containing compounds have been introduced after the concern of the halogenated ones appeared. Also, flame retardants bonded to various inorganic or insoluble or polymeric organic entities has entered market during the past years.

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