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Flame Retardants Used in Flexible Polyurethane Foam

Flame retardants in flexible polyurethane foam logo

In September 2015, EPA’s DfE Program released a final report that updated the 2005 alternatives assessment of flame retardants used in flexible polyurethane foam, which was conducted by the Partnership on Flame Retardants Used in Flexible Polyurethane Foam.

Read Flame Retardants Used in Flexible Polyurethane Foam: An Alternatives Assessment Update.

The final assessment update:

  • Includes the review of additional flame retardants used in upholstered polyurethane foam products or marketed for use in these products since 2005.
  • 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). (See who participated in the partnership).
  • Updates the previous (2005) FFRP report with new information, using DfE’s current criteria for identifying chemical hazards.
  • 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

On this page:

Background

In January 2013, DfE began updating the alternatives assessment for flame retardants used in polyurethane foam for furniture that it issued in 2005. 

A draft of this assessment was open for public review and comment during the period from June 12 to August 11, 2014. Submitted comments can be found in Docket No. EPA-HQ-OPPT-2014-0389 via www.regulations.gov.

Why did DfE conduct an alternatives assessment?

The goal of this update, developed with stakeholders’ input, was 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.

DfE's Furniture Flame Retardancy Partnership

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 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.

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Project Background

Regulatory Background, Including Information on Pentabromodiphenyl Ether (pentaBDE)

In 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) proposed a federal standard for flammability of residential upholstered furniture(52 pp, 1845 K, About PDF) that mostly addressed fires from smoldering cigarettes. Subsequently, in 2013, CPSC requested comments on a standard that would cover a wider range of ignition sources found in the home. Read more about CPSC's 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, Technical Bulletin 117-2013(15 pp, 327 K, About PDF), 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 complements 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 the 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.

Read a Consumer Fact Sheet on Flame Retardant Chemicals.

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 PlanSNUR, and IRIS assessments of PBDEs are other resources for further information.

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Milestones

All publications from this partnership are available online.

Milestones Completion Date
Completed report, "Environmental Profiles of Chemical Flame-Retardant Alternatives for Low-Density Polyurethane Foam" September 2005
Completed draft report, "Flame Retardants Used in Flexible Polyurethane Foam: An Alternatives Assessment Update" for public review and comment June 2014
Completed final report, "Flame Retardants Used in Flexible Polyurethane Foam: An Alternatives Assessment Update" September 2015
Flame retardants in flexible polyurethane foam logo

Partnership Participants

In updating its 2005 Furniture Flame Retardancy Partnership report, DfE consulted stakeholders to ensure that the chemical identification and hazard information is as accurate and current as possible. On June 12, 2014, EPA, through its DfE Program, posted for public comment the draft update of a previous alternatives assessment on flame retardants used in flexible polyurethane foam. The draft report was available for public review and comment between June 12 and August 11, 2014. Submitted comments can be found in Docket No. EPA-HQ-OPPT-2014-0389 via www.regulations.gov. The final report was released in August 2015.

The participation of the following partners was instrumental in producing DfE's 2005 alternatives assessment of flame retardants in polyurethane foam.

  • Albemarle Corporation
  • American Fire Safety Council (AFSC)
  • American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA)
  • Berkline/Benchcraft
  • Brayton International
  • Business and International Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA International)
  • Chemtura (formerly Great Lakes Chemical Corporation)
  • Clean Production Action (CPA)
  • Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
  • Craftex Mills
  • Culp
  • Felters
  • Glen Raven
  • GreenBlue
  • Herman Miller
  • HNI Corporation (formerly Hon Industries)
  • ICL Industrial Products (formerly Ameribrom, Inc. and Supresta)
  • Krueger Internationa, Inc. (KI)
  • Massachusetts Toxic Use Reduction Institute (MA TURI)
  • Microfibres
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) - Building and Fire Research Laboratory
  • National Textile Association
  • Quaker
  • Para Chem
  • Steelcase

How do I get more information?

If you would like more information, please contact Laura Romano at romano.laura@epa.gov.