Fire retardants may increase risk of harm from fire

New research presented at an American Chemical Society meeting indicates that some fire retardants, designed to reduce the flammability of materials, may lead to emissions of highly toxic gases when they are heated to high temperatures, thereby increasing the risk of death for people caught in close proximity to the fire. The research focused on halogen-based substances containing bromine, one of the most commonly used families of flame retardants.

The ACS states that almost 10,000 deaths from fires occur in industrialized countries worldwide each year, including about 3,500 in the U.S. Contrary to popular belief, inhalation of toxic gases released by burning materials –– not burns –– causes the most deaths and most of the serious injuries.

This research may lead eventually to a re-evaluation of the role of bromine-based fire retardants that are widely used in consumer products and building materials. Fire retardants are difficult to remove from materials so designers may wish to consider using alternative fire retardants in advance of any future change to regulations.

The ACS statement and abstracts of relevant articles are available at

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