Fire retardants: trade-offs may be necessary

A recent US Environmental Protection Agency report highlights the challenges facing manufacturers of products which require incorporated fire retardants: there is no perfect fire retardant for many of these products. Either we go without fire retardant, which would almost certainly cause an increase in fires, property loss, and deaths, or we have to tolerate some level of risk to the environment. In many product situations GallonDaily likes to seek out and report on win-win opportunities but in the case of fire retardants, at least until new chemicals with lower environmental risks are developed, there do not seem to be too many, if any, win-win possibilities.

The report was written to address one fire retardant of concern, decabromodiphenyl ether, which has been widely used in textiles, including children’s clothing, plastics, wiring insulation, and building and construction materials. DecaBDE is now being phased out because of potential environmental risks and the purpose of the EPA report is to look at alternatives that would fit within the Design for Environment program criteria.

The report reviews more than 30 fire retardants that are available today for use as a substitute for decaBDE. The criteria cover human health, ecotoxicity, persistence, bioaccumulation potential, and exposure potential. While the report itself, which is still in the form of a draft for public comment, does not draw any overall conclusions, the reader is almost certainly drawn to the conclusion that there is no  totally satisfactory retardant. The 800 page report does provide both useful information and advice for product manufacturers and brandowners seeking a fire retardant with which to provide protection to users of their product.

The full draft report is available at

One response

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