Chemical producers warn New York State against prohibiting some flame retardants in household goods

The North American Flame Retardant Alliance of the American Chemistry Council warned New Yorkers on Jan. 3, 2022 that if they impose a ban on the sale of some household goods with added fire retardants they “could potentially put residents and business at increased fire risk.”

Image courtesy of David Mark, Pixabay

The statement from the American Chemistry Council, the oldest chemical producers guild in the U.S. with 190 members, followed the announcement of New York State legislation to “prohibit the sale of organohalogen flame retardants (OFRs) in electronic displays, such as televisions and computer monitors.”

New York State said on Jan. 2 that governor Kathy Hochul planned to sign a ban on the sale of furniture, mattresses, and electronic displays containing flame retardant chemicals as these have been linked to elevated risks of neurological injury, hormone disruption, and cancer.

The restrictions will take effect on Jan. 1, 2024 and apply to electronic displays for home use. Fines will reach up to $2,500 per day for repeated offenses.

Safety warning

“Restricting the use of an entire class of chemicals without scientific justification is deeply disappointing and could potentially put residents and businesses at increased fire risk,”according to the ACC press release.

“Fire safety is a critical public health issue, and flame retardants are an important tool to help reduce fires, fire deaths, and property damage,” it added.

The bill may potentially conflict with federal regulations for chemicals such as the Toxic Substances Control Act, it said.

“New York’s approach regulating OFRs as a single class goes against the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences, that this diverse group of chemistries cannot be treated as a single class for purposes of assessment,” it said.

“Implementation of this legislation will be burdensome and difficult to enforce, as the legislation calls for OFR restrictions in electronic displays only when used in residential settings,” the ACC statement added.

Health concerns

The New York State bill, known as S.4630-B, will regulate chemicals in upholstered furniture, mattresses, and electronic enclosures, according to the Jan. 2 release.

Flame retardants have been associated with adverse health effects, the press release said.

These include negative impacts on the immune system, infertility, cancer, and challenged fetal development. And when the materials burn, emissions are toxic.

“Unfortunately, flame retardants produce toxic chemicals such as hydrogen cyanide that can cause harm when inhaled. This is especially dangerous to firefighters,” New York State Assemblymember Steve Englebright said.

Firefighters support ban

The Firefighters Association of the State of New York (FASNY) supports the New York State plans to ban flame retardants in household goods because of health risks.

“Despite their stated purpose, these flame retardants are not effective at preventing or slowing fires,” FASNY said in a comment posted on its website shortly after the State of New York´s bill signing announcement.

“When burned, they emit extremely toxic smoke and fumes which endanger both firefighters and the people they are working to save as they inhale them,” it added.

Under the Family and Firefighter Protection Act, the use of certain flame retardant chemicals in furniture, mattresses, and electronic casings is banned, FASNY said.

Concerns about flame retardants exist in California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island as well as in the European Union, the statement said.

A $7.8-billion market

The global flame retardant market was valued at $7.8 billion in 2019 and projected to reach $10.6 billion by 2027, according to a Nov. 29 press release by Verified Market Research.

Besides organophosphorus retardants there are various types such as aluminum trihydrate, antimony oxides, brominated and chlorinated, according to Verified Market Research.

Organophosphorus retardants are used as additives in plasticizers, foams, hydraulic fluids, anti-foam agents, and coatings for electronic components.

“Flame retardants like polyolefin nanocomposites notice major use within the automotive trade and alternative user industries like packaging, building and construction, appliances, electrical and electronics, tools, and sporting instrumentation,”Verified Market said.

“Fire safety standard improvement, specifically for metallic element composite panel cladding that’s utilized in buildings, has created product demand in construction,” Verified Market Research said.

Verified Market Research lists retardant producers such as Clariant International, Dow, and Israel Chemicals.

Flame retardants can be found in door handles and myriad other home products. In vehicles, there are retardants in parts like armrests, headliners, seat backs, seat cushions, side panels, or sun visors. 

By Renzo Pipoli