Fire Safety Standards and Flame Retardants
Flame retardants are substances that change the nature of combustible plastic materials making them more ignition resistant. In most products they primarily stop fires from starting or slow the rate of ignition. These properties significantly delay flame and fire development which in turn save lives in homes and buildings by increasing the time for occupants to escape and fire fighters to respond. It is important to understand the term ‘flame retardant’ refers to a functional role and not a particular chemistry. There are many types of flame retardants and the choice in any product or material design combines performance and safety from all dimensions. They offer a critical first layer of prevention in societal fire minimisation strategies and their value should not be easily dismissed.
No fire safety standard specifically mandates the use of chemical flame retardants. Their use is related to enabling a material or polymer to meet performance tests set in relevant fire safety standards for products and materials.
While there have been concerns with respect to a few specific flame retardants in the past twenty years, this is not indicative of a movement away from using chemical flame retardants internationally. It is true that a handful of states in the USA have adopted restrictions on the application of chemical flame retardants in children’s toys and furniture. However, the majority of states continue to enforce robust fire safety standards and allow the use of chemical flame retardants as a means of meeting best-in-class fire safety standards. California instituted a change in furniture flammability requirements in 2015, in order to reduce the use of flame retardants in furniture. However, the impact of this change on fire deaths and injuries in the intervening period requires careful analysis. Recent work by Blais et. al suggests that the impact may be retrograde.
 Blais, Matthew S., Karen Carpenter, and Kyle Fernandez. “Comparative Room Burn Study of Furnished Rooms from the United Kingdom, France and the United States.” Fire Technology (2019): 1-26.