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New Study Shows Flame Retardants Do Not Increase Chronic Smoke Toxicity

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Tom Flanagin
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WASHINGTON (July 12, 2022) — A study published recently in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A compared the combustion of home furnishings with and without flame retardants, concluding that smoke from the combustion of flame-retarded furnishings did not enhance potential chronic toxicity (including cancer) hazards.

The study entitled, “Evaluation of Potential Toxicity of Smoke from Controlled Burns of Furnished Rooms — Effect of Flame Retardancy,” led by Thomas G. Osimitz, Ph.D., addressed the use of short-term bioassays to analyze the potential chronic toxicity of smoke from the combustion of flame retardant and non-flame retardant furnishings.

“It has been claimed that incorporation of flame retardants into home furnishings and electronics increases the toxicity of smoke produced during combustion in house fires,” said Osimitz. “In this study, smoke resulting from combustion of flame retarded furnishings did not increase indicators of potential chronic toxicity hazards relative to non-flame retarded furnishings."

Chronic toxicity of smoke is a concern primarily for firefighters who may be repeatedly exposed to smoke and soot intermittently throughout their careers in a variety of scenarios, such as residential fire, commercial fire, or vehicle fire. The cell-based bioassay used in this study measured an array of gene responses associated with increased chronic toxicity hazards. Prior studies have been limited to detection and measurement of specific chemicals, but they have not measured the biological activity of the sample — a crucial step to assessing chronic hazards, such as cancer.

This publication is a companion paper to one written by Blais, Carpenter, and Fernandez, who reported on the fire science aspects, such as heat release and smoke, when comparing flame retarded and non-flame retarded home furnishings.

The American Chemistry Council’s Flame Retardant Alliance (NAFRA) funded this work. NAFRA is dedicated to supporting a strong science portfolio, characterizing flame retardants in the areas of fire science, toxicology, sustainability and circularity. NAFRA had no control of the experimental design, the results reported in this paper, or on the decision of where this paper was submitted for publication.

American Chemistry Council

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) represents the leading companies engaged in the multibillion-dollar business of chemistry. ACC members apply the science of chemistry to make innovative products, technologies and services that make people's lives better, healthier and safer. ACC is committed to improved environmental, health, safety and security performance through Responsible Care®; common sense advocacy addressing major public policy issues; and health and environmental research and product testing. ACC members and chemistry companies are among the largest investors in research and development, and are advancing products, processes and technologies to address climate change, enhance air and water quality, and progress toward a more sustainable, circular economy.

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