The crossroad: Adverse health effects of flame retardants and their fire safety functions

Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, April 2019, Volume 2, #56

Reducing the outbreak or spread of fire improves building integrity and the life of its occupants. It is essential to ensure that the substance or material used to enhance fire safety does not pose a danger to people exposed to it, e.g., during construction, maintenance and operation of a building, and occupancy of a building. A strict and transparent safety regulation must be in place. Enforcement of the regulation will require a culture of accountability, free of corruption.

Fire retardant is the substance used to slow the spread of fire or reduce its intensity. Semi-volatile organic compounds of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) family are common substances used for fire safety purposes. These substances are commonly applied to furniture, consumer products, building and construction materials, electrical and electronic devices, and transportation materials due to their perceived effectiveness. Emission of PBDEs to the environment increases the vulnerability of exposed human. The higher the exposure, the higher the risk of experiencing adverse health effects such as cancer, endocrine system disruption, impairment of reproductive and immune systems, neurological functions, and fetal and child development.

Effective safety regulation and enactment would help reduce vulnerability. Unfortunately, in most developing countries there is little or no control of these pollutants. The widespread corruption and lack of accountability continue to increase the hazard, vulnerability of the people in the vicinity, and the risk of morbidity and mortality incidences due to exposure. How can the adverse health effects from flame retardants be reduced or eliminated while maximising the fire safety benefits inherent in them? One way is to adopt alternative retardants with no adverse health effect while having a system in place that will stop the usage of any known flame retardant with adverse health effects. Continuous research efforts are needed to examine the potential health effects of all flame retardants in use. In countries where the challenge is taken seriously, the usage of banned flame retarded are criminalised, and perpetrators are brought to justice.

Safety efforts will be challenging to achieve in a system full of corruption and have little or no accountability. Avoiding this problem is a social challenge, just as it is a science and an engineering challenge.

55. PBDE_55

Do you want to know more about this topic? Read Rahman et al. (2001), Sjodin et al. (2001), and Sjodin et al. (2003) papers.

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