Flame Retardants: Why They’re in Our Homes and How To Avoid Them

Americans have been exposed to potentially harmful flame retardant chemicals for decades.  

A big reason why? In California, a misguided furniture flammability regulation led furniture makers to use large amounts of flame retardant chemicals in polyurethane foam cushioning.  Because manufacturers didn’t want to make one set of products for the California market and another set for the rest of the country, they put flame retardants in foam products sold nationwide – furniture, carpet padding, baby products, and even the foam cubes in gymnastics pits. These chemicals started showing up in people’s bodies.

But the PBDE phase-out didn’t solve the flame retardant problem. Some chemicals that replaced PBDEs may be just as bad. Although manufacturers are producing some new furniture and baby products without flame retardants, the chemicals are likely still present in older items such as:  

You and your children may also be exposed to flame retardants in the items below:

Flame retardants migrate from products to air, house dust and the outdoor environment. You can inhale them, ingest them, or absorb them through your skin. Kids often have higher levels of flame retardants in their bodies because they put their hands and household items in their mouths, and swallow contaminated dust.

EWG’s important milestone studies have helped lay the groundwork for regulatory changes that will improve public health protection. Recent biomonitoring studies, showing that PBDE replacements are in Americans’ bodies, support state and federal legislative and regulatory initiatives to ban some flame retardant compounds, and reexamine the necessity of flame retardants in products such as baby items and furniture. We intend to continue our groundbreaking work until everyone is safe from toxic flame retardants.

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