Fast Facts on Fire Safety and Flame Retardants

Recent news reports about flame retardants have been one-sided, inaccurate and misleading. The following facts clear up some of the misconceptions about flame retardants and highlight the benefits of this important fire safety tool.


  1. The threat of fire is still a serious problem. Flame retardants have played a key role in reducing the incidence of fire. But unfortunately, despite the perceptions of some that fires are no longer a cause for concern, fire dangers continue to exist. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported that in 2011:

    • 1,389,500 fires were reported in the United States
    • These fires caused 3,005 civilian deaths and 17,500 civilian injuries
    • All fires caused $11.7 billion in property damage
    • A fire department responded to a fire every 23 seconds
    • One civilian fire injury was reported every 30 minutes
    • One civilian fire death occurred every two hours and 55 minutes

  1. Flame retardants play an important role in fire prevention. Strong fire safety standards help reduce the impact of fires on people, property and the environment. Flame retardants play a key role in helping products meet those standards. They can prevent fires from starting, and if a fire does occur, they slow down its spread and improve the opportunity for safe escape. Indeed, one recent analysis, using data from a National Institute of Justice arson study, showed that flame retardants included in upholstered furniture can provide valuable escape time.

  2. Flame retardants are used in a variety of products to add a layer of fire protection. Flame retardants provide consumers with a critical layer of fire protection and are vital to reducing the risks associated with fire. Today, flame retardants are used predominantly in four major areas: electronics and electrical devices, building and construction materialsfurnishings and transportation. The use of flame retardants is especially important today as fuel loads and potentially flammable materials have increased dramatically in housing, office space and transportation over recent decades.

  3. The debate largely focuses on flame retardants that have been or are being voluntarily phased out. There are many different types of flame retardants and they have distinctly different properties. Much of the recent media coverage has focused on a class of flame retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), most of which industry agreed to phase out in the United States in 2004. The only remaining PBDE still in production is being voluntarily phased out by NAFRA members. Chemistry is rooted in innovation, and any number of ideas and products are being pursued at any given time. Among them is the next generation of fire-safety products, which are in various stages of development, and rely on a variety of sciences and methods. Any new fire-safety chemical is evaluated for its safety and efficacy, and those evaluations are made available to government regulatory bodies before the product is used.

  4. Flame retardants are subject to review by regulatory bodies. Flame retardants currently in use, like all chemicals, are subject to review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and national regulators around the globe. The Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) and more than a dozen other federal laws and regulations, including consumer product safety laws, food safety laws and product liability laws provide further oversight of chemicals in commerce to assure that they are safe for their intended uses.

Learn more about flame retardants.

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