Flame-retardants in Upholstered Furniture

The risks and the benefits of introducing flame retardants into upholstered furniture.

Risks due to the presence of flame-retardants in upholstered furniture:

1. The risk of exposure to flame-retardants during manufacture of the products (worker acute and chronic toxicity);

2. The risk of exposure to flame-retardants under normal living conditions. This risk mainly results from accumulation of release flame-retardants in indoor air (inhalation) and/or skin contact and migration of substances (chronic toxicity);

3. The environmental risk during recycling or incineration of the products (mainly ecotoxicity);

4. The risk of increasing emissions of toxic gases from accidental fires due to cigarettes or matches on upholstered furniture (acute toxicity).

All upholstered furniture, sold inUKand intended to the general public, need to be fire retardant to ignition by a cigarette, a small flame like match. InUKfor textiles, foams and fabrics, specifications are fixed by standards such as BS 5852 and EN 1021-1 and 1021-2. There requirements can reduce the fire risks, but toxicity risks due to flame retardant systems are not demonstrated.

These risks of toxicity, induced by the introduction of flame retardants in upholstered furniture that are found in dwellings, should be studied according to the recommendation of General Safety Products Directive (2001/95/CE) in order to achieve the required high level of protection for health and safety of people.

The combustion of upholstered furniture made with polyurethane foam and a covering based on cotton coated with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), should mainly lead to the formation of the following toxic effluents: CO, CO2, HCN and HCl.

In a room of 20 m3, the maximum mass loss to reach the incapacitation and the lethality of mice are respectively in our case, 540 g (incapacitation) and 740 g (lethality). The maximum mass loss required to pass the cigarette test was evaluated to 123 g (on the basis of a flexible polyurethane foam with an average density of 35 kg/m3 representative of a furniture of dwelling, with an extended carbonisation on 50 mm on both sides from the cigarette, which is the maximal criteria of material burn to fulfil EN 1021). This value is far lower than the 540 g mentioned above.