TBB (tetrabromobenzoate) is a toxic flame retardant used in polyurethane foam for furniture and children’s products, as the major component in the product known as Firemaster 550, as well as in electronics. TBB is mixed into rather than chemically bound to the foam, and can escape into the indoor and outdoor environment.
TBB escapes over time from the foam it’s used in and contaminates house dust. Kids in particular are known to ingest house dust because of their tendency to put toys and their hands into their mouths.
TBB is detected at a high frequency in the atmosphere, and together with another Firemaster 550 component has been estimated to be doubling in concentration every year. TBB is found in the indoor environment in house dust, it has been found in human breast milk and blood serum, and its metabolite is found in urine.
Firemaster 550 caused obesity and early puberty in laboratory studies, and TBB in particular has been shown to affect sex hormone production in cell-based tests. The US Environmental Protection Agency has designated TBB as high hazard for bioaccumulation.
TBB is currently under review by the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Washington State Legislature passed a law in 2016 directing state agencies to assess the compound for possible restrictions.
Manufacturers should choose safer materials and chemicals, including materials that do not require chemical flame retardants to meet flammability standards.
You can reduce your exposure to TBB and other flame retardants used in polyurethane foam by making sure furniture you purchase is labeled as free of flame retardants. Make sure any children’s products you or your childcare provider use are not labeled as meeting the California TB 117 flammability standard.