What are fire retardants?

Fire retardants are chemicals that are often added to clothing, furniture, and other fabrics so they can slow down or reduce the spread of fire. They interfere with the production and spread of flames by preventing oxidation reactions. The chemicals used most often for this purpose are brominated organophosphate (BOP) compounds.

Some very common household products and baby gear containing fire retardants(BOPs) include toys, furniture, insulation, electronics, aviation equipment.

Did you know that many household items such as furniture, baby products, and even carpets contain fire retardants? While these chemicals are meant to protect us in the event of a fire, they can actually be very dangerous. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at the dangers of fire retardants and what you can do to avoid them. Keep reading to learn more!

A brief history of fire retardants;

Fire retardants were developed in the early 1900s when people started constructing buildings out of wood instead of brick or stone since it was cheaper and easier for builders to work with wood than any other material available at the time. With this change came a new need for protection from fires which caused many cities to burn down during the 1800s-1900s due to a lack of prevention techniques for fires such as automatic sprinklers or alarms on every floor.

The change in construction was not the only driver for creating fire retardants, however. Fire retardant is also the result of applying chemicals to cotton products to make clothing resistant to staining by gasoline or oil-based substances. This process caused a need for fire retardant in metals and textiles which pushed the demand up further for chemical development within the industry.

Fire retardants are now found in furniture, clothing, textiles, plastics, and metal products. The effects of exposure to these chemicals can be devastating especially for infants and kids. For example, they have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and a slew of other illnesses.

How flame retardants work;

What makes fire retardant so interesting is that it creates a chemical reaction with heat and oxygen to prevent fires from spreading. It does this by releasing hydrogen chloride gas which causes the flames to be smothered as well as having no effect on humans or animals since they don’t produce enough heat or energy.

Negative effects of fire retardants on health and environment;

Unfortunately, while fire retardants save lives by preventing fires from spreading quickly and easily, they pose a great threat to our health and the environment. Since these chemicals are released into the air when there is a fire, we often breathe them in which causes many harmful effects such as cognitive impairment and birth defects. There is also evidence that suggests exposure to fire retardants can lead to a greater risk for asthma, cancer, and other respiratory issues.

In the environment, these chemicals are known to break down slowly which means they could still be present in our environment for years after their initial use. This poses a great threat to wildlife such as birds and aquatic life because even though we may stop using fire retardants in our furniture, these chemicals can seep into the soil and be absorbed by plants or trees which could ultimately affect birds or aquatic life when they eat the leaves.

People also absorb fire retardants through their skin when touching clothing, furniture, carpets, etc. which happens very often to adults and kids alike. This is because we come in contact with these chemicals so frequently, so we can’t avoid them completely.

What you can do to reduce exposure;

While it is nearly impossible to avoid fire retardants and other toxins completely, there are many ways to reduce your exposure and protect yourself from the harmful effects that they cause. One of those ways includes using organic or natural fibers whenever possible. In doing this, you will avoid the use of fire retardants since they are not as commonly found in organic fabrics.

In addition to choosing organic products, there are many other ways to reduce your exposure to harmful toxins such as by washing all new clothing before wearing them or buying a new home and having it tested before moving in to prevent exposure to any chemicals that were used during its construction.

A study on how flame retardants causes chromosomal damage to humans

Some credible studies have shown that very small amounts of ingested fire retardants can cause chromosomal damage which leads to birth defects and low birth weights. This means that even small amounts of these chemicals can harm the body, especially when exposed to them through children playing on fire retardant-covered couches or sitting in chairs where the chemical is still emitting from the surfaces.

History of fire retardans

The first person to give fire-retardant treatments on a large scale was the French chemist Louis-Jacques Thénard. He developed an interest in phosphorus at an early age, but it wasn’t until 1817 that he found some of its properties useful. During this year he discovered that when the cotton fabric is dipped into molten calcium phosphate, it acquires flame-resistant properties. In 1818, Thénard began selling the treated fabric as a fire precaution. The clothing was used by firemen and people who worked around flames.

In the early 1930s, research started on applying this principle to building materials. The first major successful work in this area was done around 1940 when National Foam System Inc. developed a line of fireproofing agents that are sold under the trade name AFFF (Alcohol- Foam). This system used water along with alcohol, either ethyl or methyl to generate foam for extinguishing flammable liquid fires in warehouses, garages, and fuel depots.

Around 1950, it was discovered that chlorinated organic compounds were much more effective in controlling fires than the previously used agents. During the 1960s, this discovery led to a large growth of interest in using chemical fire retardancy for building materials. In 1972, Congress passed a law requiring that all upholstered furniture sold in the US must meet flammability standards or be treated with flame-retardant chemicals.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that there was a national effort to develop new fire-retardant materials, technologies, and test procedures for building use. Fire-resistant building codes were being developed throughout the country by insurance companies, product manufacturers, testing laboratories, utilities, municipalities, and state governments. These efforts were coordinated by the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control. The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) was given the task of developing model fire-resistant building codes based on this research, which they published in 1975 under the title “Fire Resistive Standards and Tests for Building Materials”.

The first successful flame retardant for wood was a brominated compound known as pentabromodiphenyl ether, which was introduced in the late 1960s. It has been used to meet national fire codes for construction materials. The second successful flame retardant for wood is Borateem®. In its early years, it was marketed as “Boratak®, a chemical preservative which could also be used as a fire retardant”. In 1969, the full flame-retardant potential of borate compounds was realized and they were designated as Borateem®.

Next to come on the market was “Firemaster®, a mixture of phosphate esters that contained excellent long term stability during service conditions”. Firemaster is a material that has been used in a wide range of applications. It is highly effective when applied as a thin film to building materials such as plywood, particleboard, and fiberboard.

In 1985, Congress amended the Clean Air Act by adding section 611 regarding guidelines for solid-state flame retardants in upholstered furniture. This section required the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to develop testing protocols for evaluating flammability in upholstered furniture. After that, CPSC began working with scientists from many other organizations on the problem.

The work eventually led to an interagency agreement between CPSC and scientists at several government laboratories. This group defined a testing methodology to predict a furniture’s potential for a smolder ignition. This work culminated in the first mandatory furniture flammability standard, known as 16 CFR Part 1632. For several years, this standard has been used by CPSC and other government organizations that deal with consumer products safety.

Flame retardants in baby products:

In 1987, the first mandatory requirement for children’s sleepwear and mattresses was established by CPSC. The first part of the standard focused on the clothing flame-retardant requirements found in NFPA 701®, “Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame-Resistant Textiles and Films”. This requirement included a cuffed sleeping bag, a blanket and lined sleepwear.

Flame retardant regulations in the US:

In the early 1990s, a number of state and local jurisdictions began to establish their own flame-retardant requirements for consumer products. This led California to develop its own flammability standard for various products, including upholstered furniture, children’s sleepwear, and mattresses. In 2001, the state of Washington passed legislation requiring that all children’s products sold in the state be evaluated for flammability using CPSC’s 16 CFR Part 1632.

The law also established a prohibition on the use of chlorinated Tris, which had been used as a flame retardant additive in children’s sleepwear and mattresses for over 50 years. This provided an incentive to develop alternative flame retardants. Late in 2006, California passed legislation requiring that all children’s products sold in the state meet the low-smoke emissions requirements of 16 CFR Part 1610 and that certain foam products comply with the self-extinguishing test requirements of UL 723.

To help manufacturers and retailers understand and plan for compliance, California joined CPSC and other US government agencies to create a multi-stakeholder task force, which has published a series of “Guidance Documents” to help manufacturers understand the requirements. The first document describes the different types of performance tests used by CPSC and California to evaluate flammability. Other documents have focused on how to use existing test data, how to conduct testing of new products, and how to label compliant products.

The Flame Retardant Industry Alliance (FRIA) was created in 2006 with support from manufacturers of flame retardants who wanted a single point through which the issues involving flame retardants could be communicated. This alliance is made up of seven associations representing chemical suppliers, manufacturers, and users of flame retardants.

FRIA is now the main industry resource for scientific information on flame retardants. This includes research reports as well as summaries of authoritative articles appearing in leading science journals. FRIA also provides a searchable website where users can access detailed information about the sources and uses of different types of flame retardants. This resource can be used to provide up-to-date information on state and federal regulatory actions related to flame retardants, as well as industry initiatives in support of safer products.

The FRIA website lists the following associations as members of the alliance: American Chemistry Council (ACC), European Flame Retardant Association (EFRA), The Flame Retardant Alliance (FRA), Japan Flame Retardant Industry Association (JFIAS), Metal Decorating and Art Materials Industries Institute of Australasia (MDAMIIA), National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD) and Singapore Flame Retardants Association Limited.

In 2022, there are 5 current policies that have been adopted by 11 states and up to 16 have adopted variations of the main flame-retardant regulations that prohibit the manufacture, sale, or distribution of children’s products, upholstered furniture used in residences, and mattresses that contain harmful flame retardant chemicals. You can track different states’ adoption of the policies on this website here.

Flame retardant car seats have been a controversial topic because of the potential danger that flame retardants pose to children. In 2015, a study published in “Environmental Health Perspectives” found that when children sit in car seats with flame retardant chemicals, they absorb much higher amounts of these chemicals. Because of this concern, two states have issued regulations prohibiting the sale of flame retardant car seats.

A study published in “Environmental Health Perspectives” found that when children sit in car seats with flame retardant chemicals, they absorb much higher amounts of these chemicals. This has caused two states to prohibit the sale of flame retardant car seats.

Several other states have since adopted the legislation.

Flame retardants in children’s clothing, baby swings, strollers and more;

One of the biggest concerns associated with flame retardants is their negative effects on children. Some studies have found that chemicals in these products can potentially lead to reduced IQs, lower birth rates, reduced male fertility, and increased risk for testicular cancer.

In 2012, Washington state banned the sale of any clothing containing flame retardant chemicals except those that were required by federal law or that had been treated with flame retardants to meet boat flammability standards.

Maryland has enacted similar legislation that prohibits the sale of children’s clothing containing brominated and chlorinated chemical flame retardants unless they are in fabrics for which federal regulations require the use of flame retardants.

Both states allow the sale of clothing that contains flame retardants as an additive if the product meets federal flammability standards or has been treated with chemical flame retardants to meet Boat and Recreational Vehicle (Boat) Flammability Standards.

We just published our reviews of non-toxic car seats without flame-retardant fabric which you can check out. We’ll soon review other safe baby gear made with fire retardant-free materials to assist parents that are now aware of the dangers of fire retardants. Check back soon for more!

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