We look at the information and research around the use of flame retardants and what options are available for chemical free fire retardants.
British furniture fire safety standards are acknowledged as being the highest in Europe but at what cost?
Simply put, in order to achieve these standards, UK furniture is reported to contain more flame retardants than elsewhere in the world.
The Dangers of Flame Retardants
Flame retardants are used in furniture, children's products, electronics, building insulation, paints and coatings - in fact, all nature of products.
Fire retardants of concern include organohalogen and organophosphate chemicals such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and chlorinated tris (TDCPP). There is much evidence widely available to suggest that these chemicals are harmful to human life.
Flame retardants migrate out of products and into indoor dust which is ingested by people and animals. Nearly all people tested had flame retardants present in their bodies. Worryingly, toddlers have been found to have the highest levels of fire retardants present in their bodies believed to be mainly due to crawling and hand to mouth behavoir.
The evidence continues to grow to lead us to believe that many of the chemicals used are associated with adverse health effects in animals and humans.
- endocrine and thyroid disruption
- impacts to the immune system
- reproductive toxicity
- adverse effects on fetal and child development and neurological function
Brunel University in London carried out some further research on developing brains, which you can read further about here:
Due to widespread environmental contamination, flame retardants are found in our food supply. There have even been cases of flame retardants found in black plastic food utensils. This has occurred through contamination by waste polymers. You can find more information here:
How is the issue of flame retardants being dealt with in the UK?
In summary, very slowly. Consultation has been taking place for the last 4 years, since August 2014.
This is despite the fact that in 2014, the current match test was found to be ineffective. Terry Edge was appointed to review the existing Fire and Furnishings Regulations and following this discovery, along with Steve Owen of Intertek, a new match test was proposed, which would allegedly have made British furniture less expensive and more importantly more environmentally friendly. Terry now campaigns for change to the regulations.
With the reduction in deaths in Europe at a similar level to those in the UK, believed to be due to the decline in smoking and modern fire alarms, it is hard to justify the continued use of chemicals. Indeed, recent research carried out by Richard Hull, Professor of Chemistry and Fire Science at the University of Central Lancashire, showed that a UK sofa when ignited burnt more slowly than a European sofa, it emitted 2 - 3 times more toxic gas than a European sofa, which had no flame retardants.
Alarmingly, in the UK, we seem unable to reconcile the effects of fire retardant chemicals with health issues, even after incidents such as the Grenfell fire, where 12 individuals were taken to hospital with cyanide poisoning attributed at least in part to the ignition of furniture.
Whilst other countries, notably the USA and California in particular, have made some great strides towards banning these harmful chemicals.
In California, laws have been amended to require that covering materials be flame resistant rather than interior materials like upholstery foam. This was following an investigative series by the Chicago Tribune on flame retardants. In addition to their health risks, the paper found that these chemicals provided no meaningful protection against the start or spread of fire.
Indeed, following Dr Heather Stapleton, an expert in this field, giving testimony in 2017, regarding the fact that the use of organohalogen flame retardants in mattresses has not decreased, further changes were made. She stated that “exposure to the halogenated organophosphate flame retardant (TDCCP, also known as chlorinated tris) has increased significantly in the U.S. population in the last decade…and that exposure to this chemical, which is considered a carcinogen, is significantly greater in young children compared to adults.”
On September 28, 2017, the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s decision was published in the Federal Register. The Commission voted 3-2 to approve an official Guidance Document recommending “manufacturers of children’s products, upholstered furniture sold for use in residences, mattresses (and mattress pads), and plastic casings surrounding electronics, refrain from intentionally adding non-polymeric, organohalogen flame retardants to their products.” The statement went on to include if “labeling is not adequate to protect against the potential hazard, the Commission may declare the product banned” as well as if a product intended for or available for access to children is found to contain hazardous substances, “the article is a banned hazardous substance.”
Click this link for further information:
Following this background information and the confirmation that the situation in the UK looks unlikely to change in the near future, it now brings us back to:
Chemical free fire retardants - are they available?
Yes, there are some options available, whilst some of these are more expensive, the health benefits have to be priceless.
The use of naturally inherent fire retardant products such as wool are an ecological way forward. The product has many more advantages, such as comfort. As wool is a natural product, it will both absorb and give out moisture, unlike a synthetic fabric.
We supply a chemical free wool and viscose interliner tested to Crib 5 or Crib 7 which is suitable for lining over foams, as a replacement for traditional cushion liners and as a FR barrier fabric for mattresses and railway carriage upholstery. This is an ideal replacement for chemically FR treated cotton materials
Due to its composition, the interliner will also recycle at the end of its life, bringing further benefits to the environment.