Skip to main content

From our TVs to our automobiles, furniture and building materials, dangerous cancer-causing and brain-harming toxic flame retardants are used in the name of fire safety when safer alternatives are available.

How did these harmful chemicals become a common additive to household products? A decades-long collaboration between the chemical and tobacco industries put these chemicals in a multitude of everyday products without regard for public health. The kicker? Fire safety experts say many uses of the chemicals aren’t that effective in slowing down fires.

Now, we are left with a legacy of ineffective toxic chemicals in our bodies, environment, and homes. While policymakers are beginning to take action to remove some of these chemicals from the market, it’s a never-ending battle as chemical makers keep producing new hazardous chemicals.

To stop this revolving door of chemicals requires a new approach that requires government and companies to do better assessment before these chemicals are allowed on the market, and companies to innovate and address fire safety without toxic chemicals.

Toxic Flame Retardants:

TCPP

About TCPP

TCPP (tris (1-chloro-2-propyl) phosphate) is a flame retardant commonly used in polyurethane foam in consumer products and in home insulation, and in electronics. It is used as an additive to polyurethane foam and is not chemically bound, and it escapes from products into the indoor environment.

How am I exposed?

TCPP escapes over time from the foam it’s used in, and contaminates indoor air and house dust. Kids and adults alike are exposed to the flame retardant when they breathe. Kids in particular are known to ingest house dust because of their tendency to put toys and their hands into their mouths.

Why should I be concerned?

TCPP is widely detected in household dust and indoor air as a result of consumer and home uses, and the compound and its breakdown product have been found in breast milk and urine. It has been found in wastewater treatment plant effluent, surface water, and drinking water, and was the flame retardant found at the highest concentrations in Arctic air. Laboratory tests indicate TCPP may impact nervous system development as well as thyroid hormone levels; its similarity to the cancer-causing TCEP and TDCPP also raises concern.

What can government and industry do?

TCPP 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.

How can I reduce exposure?

You can reduce your exposure to TCPP and other flame retardants used in polyurethane foam by making sure furniture you purchase is labeled as free of flame retardants. Spray-in polyurethane foam insulation may also be a source of exposure, so if you are adding insulation look for alternatives without toxic 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.

EHTBB

About EHTBB

EHTBB (2-ethyl-hexyl 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. EHTBB is mixed into rather than chemically bound to the foam, and can escape into the indoor and outdoor environment.

How am I exposed?

EHTBB 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.

Why should I be concerned?

EHTBB 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. EHTBB 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 EHTBB in particular has been shown to affect sex hormone production in cell-based tests. The US Environmental Protection Agency has designated EHTBB as high hazard for bioaccumulation.

What can government and industry do?

EHTBB 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.

How can I reduce exposure?

You can reduce your exposure to EHTBB 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.

BEHTBP

About BEHTBP

BEHTBP (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. BEHTBP is mixed into rather than chemically bound to the foam and plastic, and can escape into the indoor and outdoor environment.

How am I exposed?

BEHTBP 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.

Why should I be concerned?

BEHTBP 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 BEHTBP in particular has been shown to affect sex hormone production in cell-based tests. The US Environmental Protection Agency classified BEHTBP as having high persistence and bioacummulation. Tests on a breakdown product of BEHTBP found effects on development and thyroid.

What can government and industry do?

BEHTBP 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.

How can I reduce exposure?

You can reduce your exposure to BEHTBP 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.

TPP

About TPP

Triphenyl phospate (TPP or TPHP) 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 electronics casings and other plastics. It is also used as a plasticizer and is used in other types of products, including nail polish.

How am I exposed?

TPP is mixed into rather than chemically bound to the foam and plastic it’s used in and can escape into the indoor and outdoor environment. TPP has been widely detected in household dust, and kids in particular are known to ingest house dust because of their tendency to put toys and their hands into their mouths. Research has also shown greater exposure after use of nail polish.

Why should I be concerned?

TPP has been detected in breast milk and its metabolites have been found in urine, with a U.S. study finding higher exposure among toddlers than their mothers.

TPP has been linked to a number of toxic effects:

  • Obesity: Laboratory animals exposed to Firemaster 550 had excessive weight gain, and cell-based studies implicate TPP specifically in stimulating development of fat cells and impeding bone formation.
  • Hormone disruption: Human and laboratory evidence suggest TPP can disrupt hormonal systems, with cell-based and animal studies finding effects on sex hormone levels. In men, greater exposure to TPP has been associated with altered levels of hormones and lower sperm concentrations.
  • Thyroid: Laboratory and cell-based studies have found TPP affects thyroid hormone synthesis, which can have impacts on development.
  • Aquatic toxicity: EPA has ranked TPP as having very high acute and chronic aquatic toxicity based on toxicity to fish.

What can government and industry do?

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.

How can I reduce exposure?

You can reduce your exposure to TPP 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.

V6

About V6

V6, or 2,2-bis(chloromethyl)-propane-1,3-diyltetrakis(2-chloroethyl) bisphosphate, is a toxic flame retardant commonly used in polyurethane foam in consumer products and automobile foam.

How am I exposed?

V6 is used as an additive to polyurethane foam and is not chemically bound, and it escapes from products into the indoor environment and vehicles.

Why should I be concerned?

V6 is structurally similar to the cancer-causing flame retardant TCEP and contains it as an impurity: TCEP has been measured in the V6 product at a concentration of 14%. Laboratory research found V6 affected reproduction as well as organs including thyroid and liver.

What can government and industry do?

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.

How can I reduce exposure?

You can reduce your exposure to V6 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.

PBDEs (Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers)

About PBDEs

PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are industrial toxic flame retardant chemicals used in consumer electronics, furniture, and mattresses. PBDEs are no longer produced in the U.S. but are still present in many items in our homes and elsewhere.

How am I exposed?

PBDEs have been widely detected in house dust as well as indoor air because they migrate out of products like furniture and electronics in our homes. Studies in the U.S., Europe, and Asia have found PBDEs in fish, meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and infant formula.

Why should I be concerned?

  • PBDEs are in blood, breastmilk, and umbilical cord blood.
  • Laboratory animals exposed to PBDEs show deficits in learning and memory.
  • Children with higher prenatal exposure to PBDEs have been found in several studies to have lower IQ. Exposure has also been linked to hyperactivity, poor attention, and slower motor development.
  • PBDEs affect thyroid hormone levels in laboratory animals.

What can government and industry do?

There are three common mixtures of these chemicals—penta, octa, and deca.

  • Penta- and octa-BDEs were the first to be phased out, with penta the form widely used in foam for furniture and children’s products.
  • Deca-BDE, previously the dominant flame retardant in television enclosures and also used on textiles, was phased out by industry after several states, including Washington, passed bans. There is no prohibition on articles containing deca coming into the U.S., though they are prohibited for sale in states with bans.

Twelve U.S. states have passed legislation to ban penta- and octa-BDEs, and four of them also banned deca-BDE. In December 2009, the only two U.S. makers of deca-BDE and its largest importer voluntarily agreed to stop producing and importing Deca for most uses by 2011, and to stop producing and importing the chemical for all uses by 2013. Despite the voluntary phaseout, a national ban is still needed to ensure the agreement is enforceable and any chemical flame retardant substitutes are safer.

How can I reduce exposure?

Make sure furniture is PBDE-free. If you already own furniture that contains PBDEs, consider replacing it. Thanks to California law, most furniture is now labeled regarding flame-retardant content. Check the labels when you shop:

  • If the label says “CONTAINS NO ADDED FLAME RETARDANTS” that means it’s free of flame retardants.
  • If label is marked with “CONTAINS ADDED FLAME RETARDANTS” that means it contains flame retardants.
  • If the label says the product meets TB117 standards and has no additional information, it meets an outdated standard and is likely to contain flame retardants.

Reduce dust exposure by taking the following steps:

If you cannot find information on whether a manufacturer uses PBDEs, contact the company directly.

  • Wash hands, especially those of little children, often, to keep dust from attaching to food or fingers and being consumed
  • Regularly use a wet mop to clean and remove dust particles and to keep them from being inhaled or ingested
  • Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to clean your home

Avoid farmed fish. European and U.S. farmed salmon have particularly high levels of PBDEs. Choose wild salmon instead.

Reduce animal fats. Choose lean meat and poultry cuts and low-fat dairy products. Cut visible fat off meat and poultry before cooking, and choose lower-fat cooking methods, such as broiling, grilling, roasting, or pressure-cooking.

TCEP

About TCEP

TCEP is toxic flame retardant added to polyurethane foam and is found in furniture and baby products, as well as some plastics and carpet backing.  In a 2002 study examining stream contaminants near industrial facilities, TCEP was one of the most common.

How am I exposed?

TCEP is a foam additive that over time escapes from the foam of furniture and sticks to house dust. The dust subsequently lands on household surfaces, including toys and food, and is eventually ingested. Young children are the most likely to be exposed because of their tendency to put toys and their hands into their mouths.

Baby products containing TCEP:

  • Nursing pillows
  • Portable cribs
  • Baby carriers

Why should I be concerned?

California State lists TCEP as a carcinogen, and animal studies have also found that it causes reproductive effects and neurotoxicity. The European Union has designated the chemical as a substance of very high concern because of evidence it could impair fertility.

What can government and industry do?

Some manufacturers use naturally fire-retardant materials, non-chemical flame retardancy measures such as barriers, or use least-toxic chemicals. Government agencies should allow only the least toxic chemicals to be used, and adopt sensible flammability standards.

New York State has banned TCEP in products for children under three. The ban goes into effect December 1, 2013.

How can I reduce my exposure?

The easiest way to reduce exposure to TCEP is to avoid furniture and baby products with polyurethane foam, and seek alternatives containing cotton, wool or polyester.  For products that do contain foam, ask the manufacturer whether it contains added flame retardants such as TCEP.

TDCPP (Chlorinated Tris)

About TDCPP

TDCPP was a flame retardant used in children’s pajamas in the 1970s until it was eliminated from that use due to adverse health effects.  Now, TDCPP is a widely used flame retardant added to polyurethane foam in furniture and baby products.  According to a 2011 study looking at the presence of various flame retardants in baby products, TDCPP was the most common additive.

How am I exposed?

Many furniture and baby product manufacturers integrate flame retardants into their products because of flammability standards at the state and federal level, often specifically to meet California’s strict standards. TDCPP is one of the many compounds used for this purpose.  Over time, TDCPP escapes from the foam and mixes with dust in our homes.  The dust lands on household surfaces, including toys and food, and some of it is ingested.  Young children are the most likely to be exposed because of their tendency to put toys and their hands into their mouths.

Baby products containing TDCPP:

  • Nursing pillows
  • Changing table pads
  • Car seats
  • Baby carriers
  • High chair pads

Why should I be concerned?

TDCPP has been found to cause negative health impacts in animals, including increased cancer rates, DNA mutations, and reproductive effects. TDCPP has been listed as a known carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65, and a Consumer Product Safety Commission assessment concluded that it increases cancer risk. In humans, men with higher levels of household TDCPP had lower sperm counts and altered hormone levels.

What can government and industry do?

Some manufacturers use naturally fire-retardant materials, non-chemical flame retardancy measures such as barriers, or use least-toxic chemicals. Government agencies should allow only the least toxic chemicals to be used, and adopt sensible flammability standards.

How can I reduce my exposure?

The easiest way to reduce exposure to TDCPP is to avoid furniture and baby products with polyurethane foam, and seek alternatives containing cotton, wool or polyester.  For products that do contain foam, ask the manufacturer whether it contains added flame retardants such as TDCPP.

The following brands do not use TDCPP: 

  • Baby Bjorn
  • Baby Luxe Organic
  • Orbit Baby
  • Boppy

Key Projects