Study Title:

New Thinking on Flame Retardants

Study Abstract

No one wants their bed, couch, chair, computer, or TV to catch on fire. “If an ordinary upholstered chair in your home gets ignited, it can essentially take your whole house down,” says Richard Gann, a senior research scientist at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Building and Fire Research Laboratory. The most flammable part of a mattress or couch is its plastic polyurethane foam cushioning, he explains. Once a fire gets through a chair or mattress’s fabric covering and into this cushioning, it can start a catastrophic reaction that quickly leads to “flashover,” in which nearly everything combustible inside a room ignites simultaneously.

Until very recently, brominated flame retardants, especially polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), were one of the main materials used to reduce the speed with which the plastic components of consumer goods including beds, couches, chairs, and electronics could be consumed by fire. However, growing evidence shows that PBDE compounds are escaping from the products they protect and making their way into the products’ users. Moreover, the chemicals may disrupt human thyroid hormone functioning and cause other health effects, prompting many nations to ban or suspend their use in new consumer goods. [For more information on the health effects of PBDEs, see “Unwelcome Guest: PBDEs in Indoor Dust, p. A202 this issue.]

Study Information

New Thinking on Flame Retardants
Environ Health Perspect.
2008 May

Full Study