'Environmentally friendly' flame retardant could degrade into less safe compounds

January 9, 2019, American Chemical Society

To reduce the risk of fire, many everyday products—from building materials to furniture to clothing—contain flame retardants. In recent years, some of these compounds were shown to have harmful effects on the environment, causing them to be replaced by more eco-friendly alternatives. However, a new study in ACS' journal Environmental Science & Technology, indicates that heat or ultraviolet light could break down a "safe" flame retardant into potentially harmful compounds.

Some brominated , such as hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), persist and bioaccumulate in the environment, potentially having toxic effects on organisms. As a result, some international regulatory bodies have banned HBCD, which is commonly used in polystyrene foam insulation. A replacement for HBCD, polymeric flame retardant (polyFR) is a large polymer that it is much less likely to enter cells or accumulate in the food chain. Although polyFR is considered a more environmentally friendly flame retardant, the long-term behavior of the chemical is unknown. So Christoph Koch, Bernd Sures and colleagues examined whether heat or ultraviolet light—which could be encountered during the product's use as insulation in a hot attic or after its disposal in an open landfill—could break down polyFR into smaller, potentially more harmful substances.

To simulate different environmental conditions polyFR might encounter during its lifetime, the researchers exposed the flame retardant powder to heat (140 F) or ultraviolet light and analyzed the samples with mass spectrometry. When the researchers irradiated polyFR with ultraviolet light for 3 hours, they detected 75 different degradation products, including eight containing bromine. In contrast, treatment for 36 weeks yielded only seven degradation products, one of which contained bromine. Because some of the detected compounds were small and brominated, they have the potential to be harmful, say the researchers. The team notes that polyFR may degrade differently when incorporated with polystyrene into foam insulation.

Explore further: Study finds toxic flame retardants in children's car seats

More information: "Degradation of the Polymeric Brominated Flame Retardant "Polymeric FR" by Heat and UV Exposure" Environmental Science & Technology (2019). pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.8b03872

Related Stories

Study finds toxic flame retardants in children's car seats

December 3, 2018

In a new study, Indiana University scientists found toxic flame retardants in newly manufactured children's car seats, sparking concerns about children's health. Of the 18 children's car seats tested, 15 contained new or ...

EPA suggests safer flame retardants

September 26, 2013

(HealthDay)—Safer alternatives to a toxic flame retardant chemical are presented in a new report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Potentially toxic flame retardants detected in baby products

May 18, 2011

Scientists are reporting detection of potentially toxic flame retardants in car seats, bassinet mattresses, nursing pillows, high chairs, strollers, and other products that contain polyurethane foam and are designed for newborns, ...

Nontoxic flame retardant enters market

September 28, 2017

Chemists from Empa have developed and patented an environmentally friendly way to produce flame retardants for foams that can be used in mattresses and upholstery. Unlike previous flame retardants made of chemicals containing ...

Recommended for you

3-D culturing hepatocytes on a liver-on-a-chip device

January 17, 2019

Liver-on-a-chip cell culture devices are attractive biomimetic models in drug discovery, toxicology and tissue engineering research. To maintain specific liver cell functions on a chip in the lab, adequate cell types and ...

This computer program makes pharma patents airtight

January 17, 2019

Routes to making life-saving medications and other pharmaceutical compounds are among the most carefully protected trade secrets in global industry. Building on recent work programming computers to identify synthetic pathways ...

Cultivating 4-D tissues—the self-curving cornea

January 17, 2019

Scientists at Newcastle University have developed a biological system which lets cells form a desired shape by moulding their surrounding material—in the first instance creating a self-curving cornea.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.