For decades, television makers have been putting harmful chemicals into their products in the name of fire safety. Millions of pounds of toxic flame retardant chemicals are used in the plastic casings surrounding televisions sold at major retailers each year in the U.S.  Flame retardants in TVs constitute a large and growing source of unregulated toxic pollution in our homes, workplaces and environment and pose serious health threats that are entirely preventable.

Our new investigation of six leading Best Buy and Amazon-brand televisions, co-authored with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, revealed retailers and suppliers are using outdated, hazardous chemicals to meet fire safety standards that can be met with safer alternatives or material changes.

Our Testing Results

In these televisions, made for the retailers as private-label products, we found the following in the plastic casings, also known as enclosures:

  • Three Best Buy Insignia Roku TVs contained hazardous organohalogen flame retardants. All Best Buy Insignia TVs contained the banned flame retardant deca-BDE, outlawed in five states, including at its purchase location in Washington State; one TV contained deca-BDE at levels above Washington’s enforcement limit.
  • Three Toshiba (Hisense) Fire TVs, produced in partnership with Amazon, contained hazardous organohalogen flame retardants, including one closely related to the banned deca-BDE.
  • The televisions contained flame retardants at percentage levels by weight in the plastic, meaning the chemicals make up a significant portion of the product. These chemicals can migrate out of televisions and get into indoor air, household dust, and make their way into our bodies, posing risks to families and pets.

This investigation followed testing performed in 2017, in which we tested casings from twelve televisions from twelve different manufacturers. The results of this testing are reported in our TV Reality report, in which we found that two-thirds of the TVs tested contained high concentrations of brominated flame retardants, part of the problematic class of organohalogen flame retardants. These included deca-BDE, illegal in five states and the EU, and the chemicals introduced to replace it.

Shortly after the 2017 testing, Amazon announced a partnership with Toshiba to produce the Fire TV: a “smart TV” with built-in Fire-TV capability. Major TV retailer Best Buy has a similar product with Roku capability integrated in the set, under its Insignia brand. To better understand the manufacturers’ flame retardant choices in these TVs, we purchased six TVs in 2018 and commissioned flame retardant analysis in the plastic casings in this “Toxic TV Binge” investigation. The full results can be found here.

Existing Regulations

Organohalogen flame retardants such as those found in these TVs have been the subject of increasing government scrutiny around the world. Organohalogen flame retardants are persistent chemicals linked to a variety of health concerns,including thyroid disruption, cancer, and learning deficits. In 2017, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warned electronics manufacturers and retailers to “eliminate the use” of halogenated flame retardants in plastic casings. Manufacturers and retailers of these TVs are currently ignoring this CPSC safety warning.

Additional regulation on organohalogens is moving forward in Europe. TVs like those in this investigation will soon be unavailable in the European Union (EU), which in October 2019 passed a EU-wide ban on all organohalogen flame retardants in electronics casings that will take effect in 2021.

Recommendations

It is time for the U.S. to follow Europe and rapidly implement rules to ban organohalogen flame retardants and take steps to restrict other harmful flame retardants. In the meantime, manufacturers and large retailers like Hisense, Best Buy, and Amazon must heed the CPSC warning. These companies should quickly implement policies to eliminate organohalogen flame retardants and substitute them with safer alternatives or innovate with less flammable materials. Retailers have a moral responsibility and the power to “mind the store” and drive these toxic chemicals out of televisions and other electronics. See our action alert urging Best Buy to stop selling TVs with organohalogens here

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