SVR Murthy
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For a fire to occur, three elements represented by the "Fire Triangle" have to come together: heat, fuel and oxygen. Remove any one of these elements and the fire will not be able to sustain itself.

The first type of flame retardant was PBBs and PCBs or polybrominated biphenyls and polychlorinated biphenyls. These were banned in the 1970’s when it was discovered that they were extremely toxic to humans and have since been classed as ‘definite carcinogens in humans’.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) came next. PBDEs are known as brominated flame retardants (BFR’s) and work by having an inhibitory effect on combustion chemistry. It’s important to note that the banned PCB’s are structurally similar to PBDEs. Brominated flame retardants are further split into various groups. These include:

  • DecaBDE
  • OctaBDE
  • PentaBDE
  • PBB
  • DeBDE
  • HBCD
  • TBBPA

These flame retardants are commonly added to furniture, carpet padding, electronic devices, and other consumer products.

The PDBE’s  were the most common form of flame retardants after the banning of PCBs. They were used in building materials, furniture, vehicles, plastics, polyurethane foam, textiles and electronics. However, research started to find that these new flame retardants were accumulating in human tissues via dust ingestion, dietary intake, absorption from dermal contact, and inhalation.

Worst, not only were these chemicals finding their way into our body, they were causing a range of health problems.

New forms of flame retardants are making their way into the products we use today. For Tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA) - which degrades down to the endocrine disruptor BPA - and hexabromocyclododecane, are still widely used.

Types of flame retardants used today:

Antimony

This is a heavy metal thats mainly used for flame retardants, especially in children's clothing, toys, mattresses and seat covers. Unfortunatley it is a toxic heavy metal and air exposure leads to eye, heart and lunge problems. High levels of exposure can cause liver and kidney damage (2).

PBDE

As mentioned above, Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are synthetic chemicals used as flame retardants in a variety of consumer products. Within the PBDE family there are 209 substance - called ‘congeners’. These include names such as DE–06F, DE–83R and BDE–49.

These are the nasty chemicals that can be absorbed through skin, inhaled or ingested. PBDEs are global contaminants that have been detected in human adipose tissue, serum, and/or breast milk samples collected in Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania, and the Arctic (3,4) and concentrations are found in human breast milk (5). PBDE chemicals also persist for long periods not only in the body, but also in the environment.

TDCPP

This is a chlorinated organophosphate. First used as a flame retardant in children’s clothes, it was discontinued after children wearing these fabrics were found to have mutagenic byproducts in their urine.

Today is it commonly used in household products and is found in a third of all baby products (6). Animal studies show it is easily absorbed through the skin and GI tract and various studies have shown that it accumulates in human tissues, breast milk, fat and semen.

TCEP

Another chemical compound used as a flame retardant though not as common as the other chemicals. The EU has listed it as a ‘substance of very high concern’. Also found in household dust and human breast milk.