PFAS-coated clothes that are thrown away will often end up either incinerated or in landfill. Unless incinerated at very high temperatures (>1000oC), fluorinated polymers could release more harmful PFAS during burning. PFAS of environmental concern have also been found in landfill leachate. PFAS is found in treated waste water from industrial and domestic sources and has been found in both rivers and groundwater. Conventional drinking water processes will not remove PFAS.Small quantities of PFAS will be removed during wash and wear of products containing PFAS. This includes fluorinated polymers used on stain-resistant coatings, and non-polymers that remain on clothes after production (Lassen et al. 2015).Non-polymer PFAS can build up in blood protein of animals, and is not always removed quickly. This means that predators eating PFAS-contaminated food will have higher levels in their bloodstream, and concentrations can increase up the food chain. Studies suggest that build up of PFAS is similar to those of other Persistent Organic Pollutants such as DDT.PFAS are estimated to be settling in arctic regions at rates of tens to hundreds of kilograms per year (25-850kg per year), depending on the specific PFAS chemical in question. Certain PFAS are released as gases to the environment and are blown a long way by wind and air currents in the atmosphere,. These gas PFAS will over time degrade to more persistent chemicals like PFOS and PFOA. This may be one reason why PFAS of environmental concern have been found in remote regions such as the Arctic as well as near PFAS production sitesPFAS including PFOS and PFOA have been found in air samples around Europe. The chemicals are found in small quantities, but appear in almost all samples tested. PFAS enters the atmosphere both from factories and the air inside our homes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17554424 Non-polymer PFAS are used in the production of fluorinated polymers. The manufacture of stain-resistant finishes generally releases these PFASs into the environment, both by air and water emissions. They are very hard to remove during water treatment. Workers in textiles factories are some of the population most exposed to these potentially harmful chemicals.

Sustainable Fire Safety

 

The UK’s current approach to fire safety is ineffective and contributes to the global chemical pollution crisis. Chemical flame retardants lost from our furniture and everyday products are now ubiquitous in our environment, fueling the biodiversity crisis and impacting our health.

Fidra aims to remove the barriers to reduce the need for chemical flame retardants and improve chemical data transparency. By improving supply chain traceability, we reduce chemical pollution, protect wildlife and ensure effective fire safety.

Safe and sustainable fire safety is possible.

The Problem

Understandably, fire safety is of utmost importance. In the UK, the main driver for the use of chemical flame retardants in domestic furnishings is the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations (1988). Chemical flame retardants are also added to a large proportion of day-to-day combustible products and materials to help prevent fires from starting or to limit the spread of a fire.

Chemistry is rooted in the innovation of flame retardants.  Global chemical production has increased fifty-fold since 1950 and is set to treble again by 20501, fueling the chemical pollution crisis. When chemical flame retardants are lost to the environment, they can persist, and place a harmful burden on both environmental and public health. And yet, despite evidence of more effective and sustainable alternatives, chemicals flame retardants continue to be used in excessive quantities in products throughout our homes.

The more we learn about many of these chemicals, the greater the concern becomes, resulting in a continual drip of new restrictions being placed on chemicals that were previously considered safe and added to consumer goods. This is particularly concerning for long-lived items such as mattresses and furniture, built under outdated regulations, that now contain banned or restricted chemicals, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). With the current push to increase recycling of mattresses in Scotland and across the UK, we face an ever-increasing problem of hazardous chemicals creating a barrier to safe reuse and recycling, or locking these chemicals into the circular economy.

The Solution

The excessive and unnecessary use of harmful chemical flame retardants in UK household products is harming the public health, undermining the safety of the circular economy, fueling the biodiversity crisis, and failing to protect the UK public from the risk of fatal domestic fires.

Fidra asks that the UK Government:

  • Updates the UK Furniture and Furnishings (Fire)(Safety) Regulations 1988 to remove ineffective testing requirements that do not confer real-world safety, and that promote the excessive use of chemical flame retardants.
  • Ensure the revised regulations promote durable and sustainable fire safety through innovation and intelligent product design.
  • Require full traceability and transparency where chemical flame retardants continue to be applied.

Fidra asks that mattress retailers, manufacturers, assemblers and waste facilitators:

  • To commit to reducing reliance on chemical flame retardants
  • To support the need for chemical transparency along supply chains and ensure the safety of both primary and recycled products.

We’re engaging with stakeholders along the mattress supply chain towards the development of practical solutions and innovation. To get involved or to find our more, please get in touch via info@fidra.org.uk

If you’re a concerned consumer, help show demand for flame retardant free products by writing to retailers and your local MP.

The Impacts of Chemical Flame Retardants

Deleterious to the Environment

Damaging to Human Health

A Barrier to a Safe Circular Economy

Chemical pollutants put significant pressure on wildlife populations which are already under threat from climate and land-use change.

Flame retardants have been found in wildlife across the globe, from penguins in the south to polar bears in the north. There have even been detected in the eggshells of the Bass Rock gannets, long-term neighbours of Fidra’s hometown, North Berwick.

We are all exposed to chemical flame retardants in our homes2. They are added in excessive quantities to our products and accumulate in the dust we can’t help but breath in.

The Cancer Prevention and Education Society now outlines the effects of flame retardant exposure to include cancer, neurotoxicity, developmental, behavioural, metabolic and reproductive problems3.

Chemical production outstrips global capacity to effectively assess and monitor their use, leaving public and environmental health vulnerable, and undermining the safety of our circular economy. We therefore cannot hope to achieve a clean and toxic free circular economy without transparency.

More than 80% of the environmental impact of a product is determined at the design stage4.”

In 2019, a parliamentary inquiry carried out by the Environmental Audit Committee on ‘Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life5’, heard evidence from a wide range of experts on the growing body of research linking flame retardants to adverse effects on humans and the environment.

The question is not, should we implement change? But why haven’t we implemented change? It is clear we need effective and immediate action to reduce our exposure to harmful flame retardants, safe-guarding both our health and our environment.

From factories to furniture, harmful industrial chemicals are all around us, everywhere, everyday

Case Study: The Mattress

Collaborative: We are working alongside representatives across the UK mattress industry to deliver a working case study.

Aim: To achieve traceability along supply chains

This will help manage harmful chemicals that ultimately end up in the environment whilst ensuring consumer’s have access to important information on the harmful chemicals in their products.

How: Smart labeling

The development of a universal smart labeling system that has the ability to trace chemical data will not only ensure the safety of both primary and recycled products, it will also help future-proof businesses as we transition into a toxic-free circular economy.

Aim: A full revision of the the current UK Furniture and Furnishings First Safety Regulations

Fidra hopes to support the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS), British Standard Institute (BSI) and the government transition towards a healthier and more sustainable approach to fire safety.

The facts

  • There is no clear evidence that the open flame test decreases fire deaths and ‘time to ignition’ is an unreliable proxy to fire fatality6.
  • The series of tests required for UK furniture to be sold do not reflect real world scenarios and do not result in effective fire safety.
  • The UK public are exposed to some of the highest level of chemical flame retardants across the world5.
  • A report by the European Commission clearly states ‘non-flammability requirements do not visibly decrease the number of fire deaths’7.

 

A future where sustainable fire safety exists starts with the elimination of the unnecessary use of hazardous chemicals and a new framework within UK fire regulations which provides safe and sustainable product development

Photo by Alexandra Gorn SmuS on Unsplash

Up to 18% of the weight of the mattress on your bed right now could be chemical flame retardants. These chemicals are lost into our homes, our bodies, and the environment, threatening human and environmental health8.

Find out more

References

1 Persson, L., Carney Almroth, B. M., Collins, C. D., Cornell, S., de Wit, C. A., Diamond, M. L., Fantke, P., Hassellöv, M., MacLeod, M., Ryberg, M. W., Søgaard Jørgensen, P., Villarrubia-Gómez, P., Wang, Z., & Hauschild, M. Z. (2022). Outside the Safe Operating Space of the Planetary Boundary for Novel Entities. Environmental Science & Technology, 56(3), 1510–1521. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.1c04158

2 Malliari, E., & Kalantzi, O.-I. (2017). Children’s exposure to brominated flame retardants in indoor environments – A review. Environment International, 108, 146–169. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2017.08.011

3 Carignan, C. C., Mínguez-Alarcón, L., Butt, C. M., Williams, P. L., Meeker, J. D., Stapleton, H. M., Toth, T. L., Ford, J. B., & Hauser, R. (2017). Urinary Concentrations of Organophosphate Flame Retardant Metabolites and Pregnancy Outcomes among Women Undergoing in Vitro Fertilization. Environmental Health Perspectives, 125(8), 087018. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP1021

4 European Commission (2018). Sustainable Product Policy. https://joint-research-centre.ec.europa.eu/scientific-activities-z/sustainable-product-policy_en

5 Environmental Audit Committee. (2019). Toxic chemicals in everyday life. twnetieth Report of Session 2017-2019. Report HC 180. Parliamentary Copyright House of Commons 2019

6 McKenna, S. T., Birtles, R., Dickens, K., Walker, R. G., Spearpoint, M. J., Stec, A. A., & Hull, T. R. (2018). Flame retardants in UK furniture increase smoke toxicity more than they reduce fire growth rate. Chemosphere, 196, 429–439. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2017.12.017

7 ARCADIS. (2011). European Commission Health & Consumers DG – Identification and evaluation of data on flame retardants in consumer products.

8 Stapleton, H., Klosterhaus, S., Eagle, S., Fuh, J., Meeker, J.,Blum, A., Webster, T.(2009). Detection of Organophosphate Flame Retardants in Furniture Foam and U.S. House Dust. Environmental Science & Technology. 43(19). 7490-7495. http://doi.org.10.1021/es9014019