Not just because of safety; Fire Marshals have been demanding that for years. It is probably necessary if we want to build healthy as well as safe houses. Perhaps if houses had sprinklers, then manufacturers would not have to use flame retardants that are showing up in our blood.
Some, like penta-BDE and octa-BDE have been banned, but deca-BDE is still used "despite being tied to cancer, reproductive problems, irreversible changes in brain development – and being found in the breast milk of many women in the US. These and dozens of other flame retardant chemicals are used in drapes, carpets, upholstered furniture, electronics – pretty much anything in your home that contains polyurethane foam, textiles or plastics. "
A new study by Heather Stapleton of Duke University has been studying dust bunnies in Boston and found four different flame retardants. According to an article in the American Chemical Society Journal,
Graph of pbde in breast milk from NRDC
"Tom Webster, associate chair of environmental health at Boston University’s School of Public Health and a paper coauthor, says scientists are particularly concerned about the potential risk that such chemicals pose to small children, who can unintentionally consume relatively large amounts of dust."
So what happens if you want to build a healthy, all-natural house that is free of chemicals? It is almost impossible. You can buy some furniture with all-natural materials, and a lot of electronics manufacturers are looking at alternatives to PBDEs, but most are still using some form of flame retardant.
When retardant-laden materials do catch fire, (retardants, by definition, only slow it down) the chemicals are dangerous to breathe. One report says "The International Association of Firefighters supports bans on these chemicals because firefighters have been shown to be at much higher risk of cancer, heart, lung and other debilitating diseases caused by the dangerous gases created when fire retardants burn. If you are in your home when a fire starts, you are exposed to them too. "
residential sprinkler pipes
Once again, it is a design problem; it would be superfluous to add fire retardants to furniture or electronics if there was a fire suppression system in every house, and the most effective system of all is a sprinkler system.
The Home Fire Sprinkler Association says that it adds 1% to 1.5% to the cost of a house. Insurance companies offer significant rate breaks. If every house or residential unit had them, we could stop using flame retardant chemicals to do what water does so easily.
Many natural materials burn; when you fill them with chemicals so that they don't, they are no longer natural. Let's deal with the problem the way we have for thousands of years; throw cold water on it.
Sources on flame retardants
New flame retardants detected in indoor and outdoor environments
Are flame retardants a bigger risk than fire?
Hazardous flame retardant found in household objects
More information on Residential Sprinkler systems
U.S. Fire Association
Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition
TreeHugger on flame retardants
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