Flame-Retardant Materials: The Debate Heats Up

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By Staff Reports

(DGIwire) – Manufacturers across a wide range of sectors—including upholstery, transportation, workwear and bedding—have long complied with standards set by the National Fire Protection Association in order to offer flame-retardant (FR) products to their customers. But certain types of FR chemicals have been found to pose health and environmental hazards. As a number of recent news items have shown, these hazards are spurring various actions that are influencing the FR industry.

In March 2016, for example, a CBS investigation analyzed the foam sewn into the headrests of a leading brand of infant and toddler car seat. The analysis detected high levels of a dangerous chemical called TDCPP—which had been removed from kids’ pajamas in the 1970s due to health concerns—despite the car seat manufacturer’s claims that the seats only used “below-detection limits” of the substance. A subsequent CBS investigation linked high levels of a cancer-causing FR in a child’s body to flame retardants in her car seat.

And the Huffington Post recently noted that after the U.S. Congress banned PCBs in 1977 due to health concerns, the FR industry replaced them with related substances, PBDEs. Unfortunately, PBDEs have been found to be just as toxic; a 2016 study reported by Fox News found women with high levels of PBDEs in their bodies are at elevated risk for thyroid disease.

PBDEs are closely related to Decabrom, a FR that has raised neurotoxicity concerns as well as the ability to accumulate in the body, while TDCPP is related to another FR called Tris, which has been shown by researchers to be a potential carcinogen.

“A number of halogenated flame retardants have proven hazardous and there is an ever-greater urgency about restricting or eliminating these chemicals,” says Nick Clark, CEO of Alexium International, a specialty chemicals developer. “New technology is opening the door to updated FR chemical formulations that may pose less danger to human bodies and the world around us.”

Alexium specializes in evaluating and developing unique, environmentally friendly FR chemistries for products in a variety of industries as well as for military applications. The company current sells various types of chemistries that can be customized including Alexiflam-NF™ for cotton-rich and wool-rich blends, and Alexicool, a cost-effective chemical finish for fabrics that provides a cool-to-the-touch feel to fabrics that absorb heat.

Unlike many existing FR treatments, Alexium has “next-generation” formulations that employ molecules that are known to pose minimal risk to the body or to the environment. Some of these formulations have been specifically designed to avoid the hazards associated with halogenated or brominated compounds. Finally, Alexium’s formulations may offer a performance advantage since they may preserve the original characteristics of the product being treated—and it can be laundered as many as 50 to 100 times without losing its FR protection.

“As more and more industries seek to ensure that their FR products pose no risk, the next generation of chemical formulations—such as those we have developed—are more likely to show up on their radar screens,” adds Clark.

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