Friday, March 30, 2012

Flame retardants cause toxic fumes in house fires

Toxic fumes in fires are deadlier
than burns, experts say.
Now here is a rather ironic twist to a chemical that was supposed to make materials safer in case of fire: Some of the flame retardants added to common household products increase the danger of toxic gases that are main cause of death in fires.

The flame retardants that contain the chemical element bromine  were added to household products such as carpets, furniture upholstery, plastics, crib mattresses, car and airline seats and more to suppress the visible flames in fires.

Some scientists call these flame retardants “halogen-based” flame retardants because bromine is in a group of elements called halogens.

The dangers of flame retardants

But a new study highlights the dangers this group of flame retardants may actually bring to a fire.

While halogen-based flame retardants are effective in reducing the ignitability of materials, they also increase the amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide that are released during combustion.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s the inhalation of toxic gases and not burns that causes the most deaths and most of the serious injuries sustained in fires.

Almost 10,000 deaths from fires occur in industrialized countries around the world each year, and about 3,500 in the United States.

How do flame retardants work?

The main categories of flame retardants are brominated flame retardants, mineral-based flame retardants and intumescent agents (that swell when heated so that flames cannot penetrate the barrier).

They suppress visible flames or slow down the combustion process or form a barrier between materials.
Many common household products and children's
products contain flame retardants.

The researchers found that mineral-based flame retardants had little effect on fire toxicity, while most intumescent fire retardants actually reduced the amount of toxic gases released in a fire.

Source: American Chemical Society

Reduce your exposure to fire retardants and other toxins

Many studies have linked flame retardants with negative health effects.

In order to reduce exposure, the Department of Health in Washington state suggests cleaning and dusting the home regularly since dust is a main source of exposure, replacing old foam products (from before 2005), buying electronics without Deca-BDEs in them and disposing of old household items properly.

Using an air purifier with activated carbon and HEPA will also help keep your indoor air cleaner and healthier by removing irritating and potentially harmful chemicals, gases, odors, particles, dust, bacteria, viruses and molds.

AllerAir offers powerful air purifiers for the home and office and also specialized air purifiers for common concerns such as allergy and asthma, tobacco smoke, MCS and chemical and odor control.

Contact AllerAir for more information.