Flame Retardants May Kill More Than They Save

For years, we have been saying in TreeHugger that flame retardants were a problem because they are bioaccumulative and are being found everywhere, from baby's umbilical cords to polar bears.

Now new research suggests that they are worse than ineffective, but that they actually make fires more deadly and actually increase the danger from toxic gases. Inhabitat points us to a study done at the University of Central Lancashire

“Halogen-based flame retardants are effective in reducing the ignitability of materials,” Stec said. “We found, however, that flame retardants have the undesirable effect of increasing the amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide released during combustion. These gases, not the thermal effects of burns on the body, are the No. 1 cause of fire deaths.”

Halogen-based retardants include both brominated and chlorinated retardants, and are found in the new compounds that are replacing the old PDBE and DEHP retardants. Environmental Health News quotes Richard Hull, a chemist at the University of Central Lancashire:

Carbon monoxide is an important toxicant in fire effluents. However, we have seen that it is less important than hydrogen chloride from burning PVC, or hydrogen cyanide from burning nitrogen-containing polymers such as nylon, polyurethane or acrylic, in developed fires.

Of course the American Chemistry Council went medieval on their heads and "called the claim that flame retardants may increase fire deaths "irresponsible, as it ignores important research."

Citizens for fire safetyCitizens for Fire Safety/Promo image

Whenever anyone tries to change the rules and eliminate this stuff, the lobbyists come out in force. The Citizens for Fire Safety, run by a former tobacco lobbyist, rolls out burn victims. The Bromine Science and Environmental Forum, funded by Israeli bromine giant ICL, rolls out its team. And nothing happens.

BigStepsBig Steps/Promo image

The single best way to deal with the problem is to make sprinklers mandatory. Then we wouldn't need flame retardants at all. And there is a National initiative to change building codes, that the building industry is fighting tooth and nail. Republican legislators (in Tennesee, where else?) are actually trying to get legislation passed that would make it illegal for communities to require residential sprinkler systems.

But whether it is the law or not, any green building should be sprinklered.

Flame Retardants May Kill More Than They Save
It's time to rethink our practice of adding dangerous chemicals to combustible plastics and putting them in our houses.

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