The UK Parliament is currently running an Inquiry into “Toxic chemicals in everyday life”. Forty different inputs have been published (submission deadline was 8th March 2019). Around a third of these refer to flame retardants, which could be expected in that one of the 11 questions (on chemicals policy and on chemicals in consumer products) specifically concerned the UK Furniture Fire Safety Regulations. Respondents include: fire fighters, fire scientists, environmental NGOs, cancer and health associations, and different industry sectors.
pinfa and Flame Retardants Europe (FRE, previously EFRA) submitted a joint response. This underlined the importance of fire safety with the increasing use of flammable materials in modern society and in sustainable buildings, the fact that not all FRs are the same and that FRs are from a wide range of different chemicals, the development of FRs with lower toxicity or lower emissions potential (polymeric, reactive …) and the effectiveness of the UK Furniture Fire Safety Regulations in saving lives and reducing fire impacts.
The furniture industry shows different positions. EFIC (European Furniture Industries Confederation) is very critical of the UK Furniture Fire Safety regulations. EFIC does however recognise that “There are many different flame retardants, with varying degree of potential for harm” but then contradictorily suggests that all flame retardants in UK furniture are “potentially toxic”. EFIC suggests that problems are that furniture manufacturers cannot obtain information about which FRs are included in furniture materials, and that manufacturers may tend to not use FRs with a “lower level of risk” because they prefer a cheaper chemical. The British Furniture Federation recognises that the UK Furniture Fire Safety regulations “do save lives”, but “should be updated to reflect modern manufacturing techniques and current fire risks”.
Fire fighters (UK National Fire Chiefs Council, London Fire Brigade) acknowledge the need for certain chemicals, and press for use of less harmful alternatives. They state that “many halogenated or organic flame retardants that are currently in use” can damage health and the environment, but also “recognise the benefits of the use of flame retardants”, and call for research and support for safer alternatives. They note that “the increased use of synthetic materials … increases fire loading” citing materials such as PU foams, furniture, fridges and noting “a need for many of these materials to be treated with flame retardants as a way of reducing the risk of fire” and of “making plastics safer”. The fire fighters note the “push to replace the hazardous halogenated flame retardants that are still on the market, with non-halogenated, non-organic flame retardants such as those that are mineral, phosphorus or nitrogen based and that as yet, have no known hazards”, citing Aluminium Hydroxide, Melamine, Ammonium Polyphosphate and EDA-DOPO. They not that outright bans of FRs in furniture, such as being considered in some US states “could have a serious impact on fire safety standards”. The firefighters support the inclusion of a label on furniture to specify that flame retardants are used “to allow consumers to make a decision … based on safety” and also to facilitate end-of-life management.
Health associations (Breast Cancer UK, Cancer Prevention and Education Society) take negative positions on flame retardants, proposing “phasing out of organic flame retardants across consumer and industrial products” and suggesting that “flame retardants increase fire toxicity, the principal cause of deaths in fires” (referring to McKenna et al. UCLAN 2018, discussed in pinfa Newsletter n°97).
The water industry (Anglian Water) notes that flame retardants include carcinogenic chemicals, which “could be a risk to drinking water”, and that parameters are likely to be included in revision of the EU Drinking Water Directive.
Fire scientists underline the need to not reduce fire safety. They criticise the use of some brominated chemicals, e.g. UCLAN notes that “perhaps 10 – 20 BFRs have been shown to be persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic” but that industry seems to be permanently ready to substitute one brominated FR by another, when one is banned (a process which takes significant time and extensive studies).
Published stakeholder inputs to UK Parliament enquiry on “toxic chemicals in everyday life” https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/toxic-chemicals-in-everyday-life-17-19/publications/
UK Parliament inquiry on “Toxic chemicals in everyday life” https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/toxic-chemicals-in-everyday-life-17-19/
pinfa – FRE joint response to UK inquiry: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/environmental-audit-committee/toxic-chemicals/written/97676.pdf