Are flame retardants all they're cracked up to be? |

Are flame retardants all they’re cracked up to be?


No one wants to deal with fires in their building and if you manage a workplace or space – the idea of a fire there seems like it’d be a catastrophe. Simply put, fires are far too costly for you to cheap out on and cut corners on safety protocol.

As such, it’s important to know the basics of what’s in your building, what’s there to fight fires and what each asset does specifically when in action. Today we’re going to talk a little bit about flame retardants, what they do and why they’re important. Historically they’ve played a big role in fire safety although the track record of results are mixed. Let’s jump right in.

What are they?

Flame retardants are essentially chemicals that stop or delay the spread of flames in a building. They’re incorporated into textiles, plastics and even building insulation. They provide a protective shield that not only can withstand high heat, but also suppresses and limits the spread of a fire.

How’d they get popular?

While cigarettes have given us next to nothing good – they did give us widespread use of flame retardant chemicals, which is at least relevant to our discussion today. How? Because said cigarettes were causing a ton of fires. When the state of Californians asked for a fire-safe cigarette back in the 70s, the government did what it usually does and instead set their sights on furniture instead.

The tobacco lobby pointed to flammable upholstery materials as the reason for the fires and California seemingly agreed – passing laws that increased furniture safety standards. These laws required the use of flame-retardant chemicals in our furniture materials. Soon thereafter, flame-retardant materials became common place in furniture manufacturing and here we are today. In most to all furniture, there is some sort of flame retardant chemical.

Do they actually work?

So far – the research suggests that there isn’t much of a need for mandatory chemical additives to furniture. Simply put – researchers found that furniture in compliance with the old California law did not significantly reduce the severity of home fires.

In fact, they found that some of these chemicals may even have adverse health risks associated with them such as obesity, respiratory problems and the like. Tom Harrington of CBS News even went as far as to conduct an investigative piece on flame retardants in our homes and revealed that many of the toxic chemicals used as flame retardants might be making us sick and aren’t very effective.

So what’s that mean for you?

Just because something says it will protect you doesn’t mean it will and it’s up to you to do your research. There are plenty of natural fillings and other natural materials that are far less likely to catch on fire in the first place. Use those instead.

The second word of advice is to simply make sure you’re ready to fight a fire in the event that you need to. Preparation and training is key in order to avoid catastrophe- not quick fixes.

While flame retardant chemicals and the legislation come from a decent place, they are misguided solutions to fire prevention. Only through facing this reality and being proactive in our approach to fire safety, can we improve our communities and make our work places and spaces safer. Good luck!

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