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Flame Retardants Used in Flexible Polyurethane Foam - About the Project

About This Project | Milestones | Participants

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Draft Update to a 2005 Alternatives Assessment

On June 12, 2014, EPA, through the Design for the Environment Program, posted for public comment the draft update of a previous alternatives assessment on flame retardants used in flexible polyurethane foam (PDF) (840pp, 9.35MB). The draft report will be available for public review and comment until August 11, 2014  Please submit comments to Docket No. EPA-HQ-OPPT-2014-0389 via www.regulations.gov.

In January 2013, DfE began updating its alternatives assessment for flame retardants used in polyurethane foam for furniture issued in 2005.  The goal of this draft update, developed with stakeholders’ input, is to present a review of both new and older flame retardants in this category and to help manufacturers of flexible foam products make informed decisions on flame retardants by providing a detailed comparison of the potential human health and environmental effects of chemical alternatives.

On this page:

Goal and Scope of New Draft Assessment

The new draft assessment:

  • Identifies flame retardant chemicals used to meet fire safety requirements for upholstered consumer products containing flexible polyurethane foam (FPUF)
  • Updates the health and environmental profiles of commercial flame retardants that are still in commerce and that were evaluated in a 2005 report developed by the DfE Furniture Flame Retardancy Partnership (FFRP). That evaluation used the latest science and DfE's hazard criteria (PDF) (33pp, 174K). (See who participated in the partnership.)
  • Includes the review of additional  flame retardants used in upholstered polyurethane foam products or marketed for use in these products since 2005
  • Includes information on current flame retardant standards

It also addresses:

  • New data on pentaBDE alternatives
  • New flame-retardant products for polyurethane foam
  • Updates to DfE's hazard criteria
Update Project IS Update Project Is NOT
A hazard assessment for flame retardants used in upholstered consumer products containing polyurethane foam. An evaluation of other materials or components of upholstered foam furniture (e.g., fabrics).
An assessment of health and environmental endpoints including ecotoxicity and fate in the environment. An evaluation of alternative technologies for meeting regulatory standards for flammability (e.g., barriers).
A voluntary, stakeholder-informed project. A comprehensive environmental or human health risk assessment, or life-cycle assessment, of upholstered consumer products containing foam.

Regulatory Background, Including Information on Pentabromodiphenyl ether (pentaBDE)

In 2003, DfE convened a multi-stakeholder group, “The Furniture Flame Retardancy Partnership (FFRP),” to assess viable alternatives to pentaBDE. The group included chemical manufacturers, furniture manufacturers, and governmental and non-governmental organizations.

The flame retardant pentabromodiphenyl ether, or pentaBDE, discussed in this assessment, had been widely used as an additive in furniture foam and other products to meet flammability requirements until the early 2000s, when growing concerns over the possible environmental and public health impacts of pentaBDE led government and industry to shift towards alternative flame retardants.

At the end of 2004, industry voluntarily ceased production of pentaBDE, and EPA issued a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) that effectively prohibited further manufacture of the chemical.

Read more about pentaBDE in the Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) Action Plan Summary

In 2005, FFRP issued the report, "Environmental Profiles of Chemical Flame-Retardant Alternatives for Low-Density Polyurethane Foam," which discussed the human health and environmental profiles of pentaBDE alternatives that did not appear to pose the same level of concern as pentaBDE.

In 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) proposed a federal standard for flammability of residential upholstered furniture (PDF) (52 pp, 1.8MB) that dealt mostly with fires from smoldering cigarettes. Subsequently, in 2013, CPSC requested comments on a standard that would cover a wider range of ignition sources found in home.

Read more about CPSC proposal on flammability standard for residential upholstered furniture.

In 2013, California's “Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation:” proposed a revision of Technical Bulletin 117, the California flammability standard for upholstered furniture. In November 2013, the Technical Bulletin 117-2013 (PDF) (14 pp, 279K), was finalized. Manufacturers were allowed to begin using the new testing requirements as of January 1, 2014, and were required to be fully compliant by January 1, 2015.

DfE's updated alternatives assessment would complement the CPSC and California actions by providing important information for informed selection of flame retardants in the manufacture of home and office furniture, as well as the many home products not covered by these standards.

Consumer Information

While commercial pentaBDE was phased out of production in the United States in 2004 and while EPA issued a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) that effectively prohibited further manufacture of the chemical,  it is possible that pentaBDE is being used in other countries and  is entering the United States in imported articles.  EPA proposed another SNUR in 2012 that aims, in part, to stop this potential importation of products containing PBDEs including pentaBDE.  If your flexible foam furniture was purchased before 2005, it may contain pentaBDE, and you may be exposed to pentaBDE in your home.  Exposures to flame retardants in the home may be reduced by minimizing the amount of dust in homes by cleaning with a damp mop or vacuuming with a HEPA filter.

Q. & A. Consumer Fact Sheet on Flame Retardants

Read a Consumer Fact Sheet on Flame Retardant Chemicals.
Download the PDF version of the consumer flame retardant fact sheet (PDF) (3pp, 236K).

Potential Health Effects

EPA is concerned that certain PBDEs  are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to both humans and the environment. The critical concern for human health is neurobehavioral effects.  Understanding exposure to and potential risks from exposure to pentaBDE is not in the scope of the updated alternatives assessment report.  The Action Plan, SNUR (PDF) (38 pp, 435K), and IRIS assessments PDF) (128 pp, 963.1K) of PBDEs are other resources for further information.

Get More Information

If you would like more information on the 2005 Furniture Flame Retardancy Partnership report or the update report, please contact Kathy Hart (Hart.Kathy@epa.gov).
You will need the free Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA's PDF page to learn more.

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