Posted on 04/04/2023 in Fire Safety Regulatory 2023
UK debate on FRs and fire safety

Scientists suggest policy should prioritise “benign-by-design” for fire safety taking into account smoke and fire toxicity. Within the UK Research Initiative (UKRI) on clean air, scientists organised a round-table on chemicals and environmental health centred on flame retardants. This led to a published paper presented as a “Consensus Statement”. Information is not provided as to which stakeholders took part in the round table. The paper is signed by a dozen scientists, a cancer NGO and a furniture upholsterer using natural materials.

This “Consensus Statement” includes the statements “There is significant uncertainty about whether and to what extent flame retardants contribute to fire safety” and “There is evidence that flame retardants exacerbate smoke and fire toxicity”.

pinfa suggests that these statements are misleading and not consensual: there is agreement that flame retardants do contribute to fire safety in many applications; there is also evidence that flame retardants do not increase smoke or toxicity (see e.g. Blais 2020 in pinfa Newsletter n°140, CREPIM study for pinfa here, CREPIM tests for pinfa in pinfa Newsletter n°109).

The document calls for policy to incentivise “benign-by-design” products, for example using inherently less flammable materials or fire barriers. The authors do not seem to take into account that this may be more feasible for certain applications, maybe furniture or building materials (but with design, performance and cost implications), than for e.g. transport or electronics applications. The document also contains policy calls which pinfa overall supports: high level of certainty about health and environmental safety of flame retardant chemicals before allowing them on the market (to avoid today’s products becoming tomorrow’s legacies) and a labelling system to identify chemicals in products to facilitate recycling management.

“A new consensus on reconciling fire safety with environmental & health impacts of chemical flame retardants”, J. Page, A. Stec et al., Env. International 2023

“Understanding and managing health risks from exposure to flame retardants, and the broader implications for UK chemicals policy”, P. Whaley, UKRI Clean Air, Human Health Round Table, 29 June 2022

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