Flame Retardants

Found in

Foam products, such as furniture, baby gear; electronics; textiles; toys; building materials 

Health effects

Hormone disruption; can cause cancer, effects on development and brain; liver and thyroid toxicity; possibly obesity

More details

Flame retardants (FRs) migrate out of products into dust and into the human body. Because children play on the floor and put their fingers in their mouths, they ingest higher levels of these chemicals than adults.i ii Children can also be exposed to flame retardants through breathing and through the skin.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified flame retardants in the bodies of more than 90% of Americans. Toddlers have up to five times the levels of flame retardants in their bodies compared with their parents.iii iv A higher number of infant products in the home has been correlated with higher FR exposure. Infants with more than 17 products in the home had almost seven times the levels of metabolites of TDCPP compared with those in homes with under 13 products.v

While certain brominated FRs have mostly been phased out for use in foam products, replacement chemicals, some of which still contain bromine or chlorine, are now found in the home and in the human body. Levels of organophosphate replacement chemicals in urine samples (TPP, TDCPP) increased significantly over the past ten years.vi Firemaster 550 chemical constituents (TBB, TBPH) were detected in 100% of household dust samples and 95-100% of hand wipe samples from mother-child study pairs.vii Replacement FRs (TDCPP, TCEP, TBB) have been detected in numerous house dust studiesviii and in child care environments.ix

Since halogenated flame retardants (those with chlorine or bromine) have become global pollutants and build up in the food chain, people can be exposed from eating fish, meat or dairy products.x Ten percent of infants in the U.S. may be exposed to brominated FRs in breast milk that exceed the reference dose (safety threshold established by U.S. EPA.)xi After California banned certain brominated FRs, levels in breast milk declined by 39% in first time mothers.xii

Exposure to toxic flame-retardant ingredients is associated with numerous adverse health effects. Components of Firemaster 550 (TBB, TBPH) were linked to endocrine disruption and obesity in ratsxiii and adverse effects on brain development and reproduction. TCEP, TDCPP and chlorinated paraffins have been identified as carcinogens.xiv xv xvi Halogenated FRs TBBPA, TBPH, TBB, TCPP and V6, containing chlorine or bromine, have potential to release carcinogenic dioxins and dioxin-like compounds.

Appendix 1 of the Safer Products for Babies and Toddlers: Resources and Recommendations for Retailers summarizes health risks and exposures to flame retardants of concern in consumer products.


i Toms LM, Harden F, Paepke O, Hobson P et al. Higher accumulation of polybrominated diphenyl ethers in infants than in adults. Environ Sci Technol. 2008;42(19):7510-15.

ii Toms LM, Sjodin A, Harden F, Hobson P et al. Serum polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) levels are higher in children (2-5 years of age) than in infants and adults. Environ Health Perspectives 2009;117(9):1461-65.

iii Butt CM, Congleton J, Hoffman K, Fang M, Stapleton HM. Metabolites of organophosphate flame retardants and 2-ethylhexyl tetrabromobenzoate in urine from paired mothers and toddlers. Environ Sci Technol. 2014;48(17):10432-8.

iv No Escape: Tests Find Toxic Flame Retardants in Mothers – and Even More in Toddlers, Environmental Working Group and Duke University, August 4, 2014. http://www.ewg.org/research/flame-retardants-2014

v Hoffman K, Butt CM, Chen A, Limkakeng AT, Stapleton HM. High exposure to organophosphate flame retardants in infants: associations with baby products. Environ Sci Technol. 2015;49(24):14554-59.

vi Hoffman K, Butt CM, Webster TF, Preston EV et al. Temporal trends in exposure to organophosphate flame retardants in the United States. Environ Sci & Technol. Letters. February 8, 2017. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.estlett.6b00475

vii Cowell WJ, Stapleton HM, Holmes D, Calero L et al. Prevalence of historical and replacement brominated flame retardant chemicals in New York City homes. Emerging Contaminants. 2017;3(1):32-39.

viii Mitro SD, Dodson RE, Singla V, Adamkiewicz G et al. Consumer product chemicals in indoor dust: a quantitative meta-analysis of U.S. studies. Environ Sci Technol. 2016;50(19):10661-72.

ix Bradman A, Castorina R, Gaspar F, Nishioka M et al. Flame retardant exposures in California early childhood education environments. Chemosphere. 2014;116:61-66.

x Fromme H, Becher G, Hilger B, Volkel W. Brominated flame retardants – exposure and risk assessment for the general population. Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2016;19(1):1-23.

xi Lyche JL, Rosseland C, Berge G, Polder A. Human health risk associated with brominated flame-retardants (BFRs). Environ Int. 2015;74:170-80.

xii California Department of Toxic Substances Control, www.dtsc.ca.gov/SCP/PBDEsDecrease.cfm

xiii Patisaul HB, Roberts SC, Mabrey N, McCaffrey KA et al. Accumulation and endocrine disrupting effects of the flame retardant mixture Firemaster 550 in rats; an exploratory assessment. J Biochem Mol Toxicol. 2013;27(2):124-36.

xiv State of California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment Proposition 65 List: Chemicals Known to the State to Cause Cancer or Reproductive Toxicity.

xv IARC Monographs on Evaluation of the Carcinogenic Risk to Humans. 1990.

xvi National Toxicology Program. 2005. DHHS. Report on Carcinogens, Eleventh Edition; Substance Profiles: Chlorinated Paraffins (C12, 60% Chlorine) CAS No. 108171-26-2.

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