California policymakers should consider the fire safety benefits flame retardants provide in homes and buildings

According to an article published in the San Francisco Chronicle, a California policymaker is introducing legislation that would reduce the use of flame retardants used in foam insulation installed in buildings across the state. Unfortunately, the article could give readers the false impression that flame retardants don’t stop fires.

The truth is flame retardants are an important tool in the fire safety toolbox. Together with several other fire-safety technologies, such as smoke detectors and sprinklers, flame retardants have made a difference in reducing fire injuries and deaths, even as fuel loads and potentially flammable materials have increased dramatically.

Fire safety tools, like flame retardants, are important as statistics from the National Fire Protection Association show that fires remain a significant threat across the U.S. Also, according to the California Fire Sprinkler Coalition, from 2003-2010, California fire departments responded to an estimated 73,422 home structure fires. The fires resulted in 563 civilian fire deaths, three firefighter deaths, 2,072 civilian fire injuries and $3.1 billion in direct damage.

Removing flame retardants would only make insulation more susceptible to fire. Flame retardants are used in a variety of building and construction materials in homes, offices and public buildings, including schools and hospitals, to provide individuals with fire safety protection and critical escape time should a fire start. These few extra minutes are especially important for the most vulnerable populations. In research results released in May 2011, the National Fire Protection Association found the populations at highest risk for home fire-related deaths were children under the age of five and seniors over the age of 65.

The flame retardants currently used, like all chemicals, are subject to review by government regulators across the world, and the scientific profile on each should be reviewed and considered separately. Efforts to hastily remove flame retardants in one broad stroke only demonstrates a misunderstanding of the chemistry involved and could undermine public safety.

Given all that is at stake, we hope public policymakers in California will consider all of the data before making any decisions that could lessen fire standards and compromise the safety of its citizens.

Read more about the use of flame retardants in building materials.

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