Fire safety without flame retardants

September 21, 2016 at 2:52 pm | Posted in Feature Articles | Leave a comment

In favour of other ways of
achieving fire safety


More than two years on from first being mooted, the UK is opening a new consultation on revised fire safety tests which may reduce the amount of flame retardants being used in home furnishings whilst preserving – or potentially even improving – the ability of furniture to resist ignition.

Controversy about the efficacy of the existing UK standard has been around for a while, but only last month surfaced in the UK news media, receiving coverage in the Daily Mail and the Sunday Times.

In contrast, the US media has been covering issues relating to the efficacy and safety of fire retardants for years, with an early, major investigation by the Chicago Tribune in 2012, and most recently covered again by TIME.

The concerns are threefold:

  • Firstly, that fire retardants present unacceptable environmental and human health risks;
  • Secondly, that fire retardants are actually ineffective, doing too little to prevent fires taking hold;
  • Thirdly, that when fires do take hold, fire retardants contribute to increased toxicity of the indoor atmosphere, making it harder for residents to safely escape.

This adds up to a strong argument for finding other ways to secure fire safety than relying on adding chemical fire retardants to flammable furnishings.

The solution lies in moving away from fire safety tests which are built around the obvious solution (adding more fire retardants) and instead encouraging development of furnishings which are inherently more fire-resistant – a move recently backed by a number of furniture trade bodies – and continuing to introduce smoke detectors, automatic sprinkler and extinguisher systems, smoke alarms etc. which can reduce risk of domestic fires without introducing environmental health risks from fire retardants of unclear efficacy.

By switching focus from chemical solutions to making existing furnishing designs less flammable, to a more holistic approach to fire-safety, it should be possible to have furnishings which are both genuinely fire-resistant in home environments which also work to prevent fires, thereby reaching a higher level of fire safety than is currently achieved without using substances which are either known to present risks to human and environmental health or about which such information is lacking (as seems to overwhelmingly be the case for organophosphorus fire retardants).

Whether or not the new UK proposals satisfactorily achieve this is, at present, unclear. Anyone wishing to respond to the consultation can do so here. More information about the proposals is here.

September 2016 News Bulletin: Sofa safety fears; concerns raised over lax safety testing for cosmetics

September 15, 2016 at 3:48 pm | Posted in News and Science Bulletins | Leave a comment

September 2016 News Bulletin

Safety fears over sofa fire resistance heighten after study shows tests are inadequate. Fire tests used to demonstrate the safety of sofas and beds are inadequate with the result lives are being put at risk, it is claimed. The key test, which involves putting a lit match against the fabric, is said to be no guarantee a product is safe. (Daily Mail)

Is Your Lipstick Bad for You? You can’t legally buy a drug in the United States that hasn’t undergone rigorous testing, mandated by Congress, to prove that it’s safe and effective. By contrast, that lipstick, shampoo, or deodorant you use every day may have undergone no such testing. (New York Times)

You Asked: Can My Couch Give Me Cancer? Cancer is just one of many health concerns linked to the chemical treatments used in furniture. (TIME)

Researchers find unsafe levels of industrial chemicals in drinking water of 6 million Americans. What they found: 194 of 4,864 water supplies across nearly three dozen states had detectable levels of the chemicals. Sixty-six of those water supplies, serving about six million people, had at least one sample that exceeded the EPA’s recommended safety limit of 70 parts per trillion for two types of chemicals — perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). (Washington Post)

Post-Consumer Flexible Polyurethane Foam Scrap Used In Building Products. Most post-consumer flexible polyurethane foam (FPF) collected for recycling today contains highly toxic flame retardants. The vast majority of this scrap material is recycled into one type of new building product: bonded carpet cushion. While the practice of diverting vast amounts of FPF from landfills represents a recycling success story, the potential health hazards to vulnerable populations make us question whether the benefits of recycling are worth the risk. (HealthyBuildingNetwork)

Commission’s endocrine disruptor plan is illegal, inadequate and woefully late. European Commission draft rules to identify and ultimately ban endocrine disruptors are illegal because they clash with existing pesticide and biocide regulations, Alice Bernard writes. The environmental lawyer warned that EU judges could throw out the changes to the long-awaited scientific criteria for the chemicals. (Euractiv)

September 2016 Science Bulletin: Pesticides and wheeze; the value of investigating air pollution and still birth

September 15, 2016 at 3:20 pm | Posted in News and Science Bulletins | Leave a comment

September 2016 Science Bulletin

Pesticides, allergies | Pesticides Are Associated with Allergic and Non-Allergic Wheeze among Male Farmers. In models evaluating current use of specific pesticides, 19 pesticides were significantly associated (p<0.05) with allergic wheeze (18 positive, 1 negative) and 21 pesticides with non-allergic wheeze (19 positive, 2 negative); 11 pesticides with both. Seven pesticides and a fungicide had significantly different associations for allergic and non-allergic wheeze. In exposure-response models with up to five exposure categories, we saw evidence of an exposure-response relationship for several pesticides including the commonly used herbicides 2,4-D and glyphosate, the insecticides permethrin and carbaryl and the rodenticide warfarin.

BPA, obesity | Perinatal BPA exposure alters body weight and composition in a dose specific and sex specific manner: the addition of peripubertal exposure exacerbates adverse effects in female mice. Both perinatal exposure alone and perinatal plus peripubertal exposure to environmentally relevant levels of BPA resulted in lasting effects on body weight and body composition. The effects were dose specific and sex specific and were influenced by the precise window of BPA exposure.

POPs, obesity | Early-Life Exposures to Persistent Organic Pollutants in Relation to Overweight in Preschool Children. Maternal serum concentrations of HCB, PFOS and PFOA were associated with increased BMI z-scores and/or overweight risk (i.e. BMI z-score≥ 85th WHO percentile). No clear association was found for maternal serum-PCBs, p,p’-DDE, PFHxS, PFNA and PFDA. In cross-sectional analyses, we observed a pattern of inverse associations between child serum-POPs and BMI z-scores at age 5, perhaps due to reverse causation that requires attention in future prospective analyses. Findings in this recent cohort support a role of maternal exposure to endocrine disruptors in the childhood obesity epidemic.

Air pollution, still birth | Is it still important to study if ambient air pollution triggers stillbirth? Stillbirth is one of the most neglected tragedies in global health today, and the existing evidence, summarised by Siddika et al, deserves additional investigation. Although the reported summary effect estimates were relatively small, the ubiquitous nature of ambient air pollution exposure suggests that exposure to ambient air pollution may have a large population-attributable risk for stillbirth.

BPA, potential alternatives | Wreaking Reproductive Havoc One Chemical at a Time. New variations on bisphenol A seem an awful lot like the original. New results are confirming that suspicion.

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