Experts call for fire safety policy change over health impact of widely used flame retardants

house fire

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Leading environmental health experts have called for a comprehensive review of UK fire safety regulations, with a focus on the environmental and health risks associated with current chemical flame retardants.

The health dangers associated with substances intended to improve fire safety have prompted experts to call for a range of new measures to reduce risk.

Flame retardants are widely used to slow or stop the spread of fire. They are regularly used in a range of products – from sofas and textiles to building materials. However, hundreds of studies have reported the adverse effects of these chemicals, many of which are bioaccumulative and associated with wide-ranging health risks including cancer, developmental disorders, and DNA damage.

The UK has some of the highest use of flame retardants in the world and we are all exposed to it in our daily lives. Retardants have been found in a variety of places – including homes, schools, offices, and vehicles. They have been found in air and dust, in food and drinking water, and on indoor surfaces and textiles, where they can be absorbed through skin contact. The authors note that this exposure is particularly noticeable in young children, who tend to crawl around and pick things up.

They are also found in natural environments, including rivers, lakes, oceans and sediments, and also in fish, mammals and birds.

Such widespread use is partly attributed to the flame ignition tests which are the main focus of current fire safety regulations. Experts have questioned whether these tests are fit for purpose in reducing fire risk and believe that the government’s emphasis on these tests encourages the addition of large amounts of fire retardants to products.

Experts say there is also “significant uncertainty” about the contribution of flame retardants to fire safety, and that there is evidence that flame retardants worsen smoke and fire toxicity.

Dr Paul Whaley, from Lancaster University and corresponding author of the statement, said, “There have been long-standing concerns about the effectiveness of flame retardants and their associated health risks, which the UK Government has never adequately addressed. change this. : There must be a proper balance between the harms and the benefits of flame retardants, including a comprehensive evaluation of the effectiveness of flame retardants as a fire safety measure, while paying close attention to unintended harm policy UK fire safety.”

The evidence-based call to action, from a group of 13 experts, comes in the form of “A New Fire Safety Consensus Addressing the Environmental & Health Impacts of Chemical Flame Retardants,” published Feb. 28 in the journal. International Environment.

The authors set out six measures for the Government to urgently undertake a thorough review of the need for chemical flame retardants, including removing incentives for their use.

The authors instead call for industry to be encouraged to develop “benign” furniture and inherently less flammable materials.

They also call for the development of a labeling system to track the use of retarders, so that they can be identified and disposed of safely.

Their recommendations also include the need to take a systemic approach to fire safety rather than a reductionist approach that relies on ignition tests.

Professor Ruth Garside from the University of Exeter said, “There are problems with the use of flame retardants at all stages of the life cycle, which can even worsen smoke and toxicity during fires when they are supposed to provide a safety measure. Without no clear labeling system, these substances are not disposed of properly, which means they end up in recycled products.

“A significant proportion of fire deaths are caused by the inhalation of toxic fumes, so there is no time to delay the review of fire safety regulations. We call on the government to take urgent action for our health on distance.”

The UK’s Fittings and Fire Regulations have been under review since 2014 but no revised policy has yet been formally proposed.

Professor Frank Kelly of Imperial College London, and co-author of the paper, said, “There are understandable concerns about the weakening of existing fire regulations, particularly in the wake of tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower fire. However, it is imperative that they do so. the use of these chemicals and their effectiveness in preventing fires is balanced against the serious long-term consequences for our health and environment.”

Jamie Page from the Association for Cancer Prevention and Education said, “Fire safety is a complex, multi-disciplinary issue, but the industry is leading the way in processes. Well-reasoned challenges to current approaches need to be addressed. . There will be a need for more comprehensive and transparent public consultation. processes that will bring together the views of the various stakeholders.”

More information:
A New Consensus on Fire Safety Addressing the Environmental & Health Impacts of Chemical Flame Consequences, International Environment (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2023.107782

Available at Lancaster University

Quote: Experts call for fire safety policy change due to health effects of widely used flame retardants (2023, February 27) retrieved February 27, 2023 from https://phys. org/news/2023-02-experts-demand-safety-policy-health. html

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