man touching fire

Flame Retardants

Flame Retardants

Flame retardants are chemicals that are added or applied to materials in order to slow or prevent the start or growth of fire.

Where are flame retardants used?

Flame retardants have been used in many consumer and industrial products since the 1970s, to decrease the ability of materials to ignite. Flame retardants are often added or applied to the following products.

Furnishings, such as foam, upholstery, mattresses, carpets, curtains, and fabric blinds.

Electronics and electrical devices, such as computers, laptops, phones, televisions, household appliances, and wires and cables.

Building and construction materials, including electrical wires and cables, and insulation materials, such as polystyrene and polyurethane insulation foams.

Transportation products, such as seats, seat covers and fillings, bumpers, overhead compartments, and other parts of automobiles, airplanes, and trains.


Many flame retardants have been removed from the market or are no longer produced. However, because they do not easily break down, they can remain persistent in the environment for years. They can also bioaccumulate, or build up in people and animals over time.

How are people exposed to flame retardants?

People can be exposed to flame retardants through a variety of ways, including diet; consumer products in the home, car, airplane, and workplace; and house dust.

  • These chemicals can get into the air, water, and soil during manufacture.
  • Chemicals can leak from products into dust and into the air.
  • Dust can get on hands and food and then into the mouth when food is eaten.
  • Through e-waste or the uncontrolled burning and dismantling of electronic and electric waste.

What are some of the potential health effects associated with flame retardants?

Although flame retardants can offer benefits when they are added to some products, a growing body of evidence shows that many of these chemicals are associated with adverse health effects in animals and humans, including endocrine and thyroid disruption, impacts to the immune system, reproductive toxicity, cancer, and adverse effects on fetal and child development and neurologic function.

Who is most vulnerable?

Children may be particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of these chemicals, because their brain and other organs are still developing. Hand-to-mouth behavior and proximity to the floor increases the potential of children to be exposed to flame retardants. Researchers have found that children have higher concentrations of flame retardants in their bodies than adults.

What can be done to reduce exposure to flame retardants?
  • Keep dust levels down, by wet mopping and vacuuming with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to help remove contaminants from your home.
  • Wash your hands and those of your children often. Hand-to-mouth contact exposes people to flame retardants.
  • When purchasing new products, try to purchase baby products and furniture filled with cotton, polyester, or wool, instead of polyurethane foam.
  • Reduce dust by having a good ventilation system in your home.
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