PerspectiveChemistry

Toward fire safety without chemical risk

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Science  19 Apr 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6437, pp. 231-232
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax2054

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Summary

Halogenated flame retardants are used widely in consumer products such as carpets, textiles, and electronics to reduce the risk of fire. It has been known for more than 20 years that these compounds can leach into the environment, with particularly high concentrations recorded in fish and marine mammals. Concerns have also been raised about carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting effects in humans. Some brominated flame retardants—in particular, polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) commercial mixtures and hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD)—have been banned or phased out in some jurisdictions, and the possible use of alternative flame retardants has been investigated. Yet, over the past 20 years, global production of flame retardants has continued to rise without a decrease in halogenated flame retardant production. It is time for a critical evaluation of flame retardant use.