Protect Families, Firefighters From Toxic Flame Retardants

Fire Fighter in front of a burning building. Credit: Mike Gabelmann / Creative Commons - Flickr

Toxic chemical flame retardants are added to a variety of common household products like upholstered furniture, bedding, car seats and high-chair pads. These chemicals have been linked to health hazards like cancer, neurological deficits, impaired fertility and learning disabilities.

Firefighters, who face a toxic mixture of chemicals and smoke while battling blazes, and children, who experience long-term exposure while their immune systems are developing, are most at risk.

Flame Retardants Graphic

There are better ways to achieve fire protection than using toxic chemicals, and some retailers are moving to safer, alternative products. We will be introducing legislation in Rhode Island to phase out the sale of furniture and children’s products with flame retardants.

Why We Need to Move Beyond Chemical Flame Retardants

  • They make us sick: These toxic chemicals have been linked to serious health issues: Cancers, reproductive disorders, nervous system ailments, lowered IQs. See
  • They don't stay put: The chemicals migrate from furniture and bond with dust in our homes and workplaces. They accumulate in our bodies and the environment, including our waterways.  Some have been classified as carcinogens.
  • They are ineffective: In furniture, the foam padding inside the upholstery gets treated with flame retardant chemicals. By the time the flames reach the chemically treated material, the fire has already reached an intensity too strong for the chemicals to be effective.
  • They put high-risk populations at greater risk: Children, pregnant women and firefighters are particularly vulnerable. Tests on firefighters show three times the level of these chemicals in the bloodstream as the general population. The chemicals have been found in the blood of newborns and breast milk, and toddlers have much higher levels than their parents.
  • There are safer alternatives: Many retailers offer fire resistant furniture options free of harmful chemicals and some (Ashley, Crate & Barrel, Ikea, La-Z-Boy) have pledged to stop selling flame retardant furniture entirely.

Trending: 13 states have passed legislation to phase out or ban some types of flame retardants. A coalition of medical, firefighter and science groups have submitted a petition to the Consumer Product Safety Commission  asking for a ban on flame retardants in children’s products, mattresses, furniture, and electronics casings.

Our Solutions

  • Legislation requiring retailers to phase out the sale of upholstered furniture and children’s products that contain organohalogen flame retardants. Banning this entire class of chemicals makes it more difficult for manufacturers to tweak their formulas to avoid restrictions on specific compounds.
  • Procurement – Engaging with the Rhode Island Department of Administration to develop purchasing regulations that provide healthier products for schools, state offices  and other public buildings. Rhode Island and neighboring states are exploring participation in regional procurement networks that can both lower costs and make it a priority to avoid products containing toxic chemicals.
  • Market pressure – We participate in Mind the Store’s campaigns to encourage retailers to phase out products with toxic chemical ingredients. Phthalates in flooring, flame retardants in furniture and BPA in food packaging are just a few of the substances targeted in social media and on site, direct action campaigns.