TBPH (bis(2-ethylhexyl) tetrabromophthalate) is a toxic flame retardant used in polyurethane foam for furniture and children’s products, as a component in the product known as Firemaster 550, and in wire and cable and other plastics. TBPH is mixed into rather than chemically bound to the foam and plastic, and can escape into the indoor and outdoor environment.
TBPH 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.
TBPH has been detected in indoor air, house dust, surface water, and laundry water, and is estimated to be doubling in the atmosphere every year. Firemaster 550 caused obesity and early puberty in laboratory studies, and TBPH in particular has been shown to affect sex hormone production in cell-based tests. The US Environmental Protection Agency classified TBPH as having high persistence and bioacummulation. Tests on a breakdown product of TBPH found effects on development and thyroid.
TBPH 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 TBPH 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.