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Flame retardants in consumer products remain a hot topic for environmental health

Lying on your couch did you ever wonder if you were being exposed to potentially toxic flame retardants? A new report by ANSES, French national risk assessment agency for health and environment, about flame retardants used in upholstered furniture might help you to figure out

22.10.2015 |



Paris, October 22, 2015 - Lying on your couch did you ever wonder if you were being exposed to potentially toxic flame retardants? A new report by ANSES, French national risk assessment agency for health and environment, about flame retardants used in upholstered furniture might help you to figure out.

Furniture are one of the many products which impact on indoor air quality. None of the 22 substances (1) used in upholstered furniture and selected for ANSES study, could be proven safe for health and environment. As a consequence, ANSES recommends to use alternative methods to flame retardants.

« New » flame retardants : are they really safe ?
Several halogenated (brominated, chlorinated, fluorinated) compounds which were widely used until recently notably as flame retardants – are now identified by the Stockholm Convention as “Persistent Organic Pollutants”. Progressively, these substances are being banned at European and international levels, despite derogations (2) attempts at risk to undermine public health protection global objective. Brominated compounds have been replaced by phosphorus flame retardants and various other compounds. One of them, TCPP (Tris-Chloroisopropyl Phosphate), banned in toys by EU toys safety regulation, but still in use in upholstered furniture, can migrate to the surface of the furniture, according to ANSES’ assessment. At this stage, the Agency cannot “exclude the toxicity of none of the [22] compounds”. Each of the 22 substances is at least suspected to be classified in one of the following categories: reprotoxic, neurotoxic, endocrine disruptors, carcinogenic, persistent in the environment, etc. Therefore, ANSES recommends not to extend the use of flame retardants in upholstered furniture (3) but rather to rely to alternative methods.

“Adapt indoor air quality standards to the reality of exposures”, a message from WECF
« We are very positive on the fact that ANSES works on one issue, which is of concern to a lot of parents who contact us. This study reveals that indoor air quality standards do not cover all potential air contaminants, whereas this would be quite necessary to improve knowledge and prevent exposures from vulnerable populations – like for instance children in kindergarten or pregnant women. The potential toxic properties of the substances assessed call for implementation of the precautionary principle, which is exactly what ANSES recommends.

We ask for more collaboration between EU member states dealing with chemicals in consumer products like Sweden, Denmark, etc. Last May for instance, during a symposium, European expert on indoor air Ralph Baden (Ministry of Health, Luxembourg), provided interesting data on indoor air quality which can be of interest for all countries. Last but not least, ANSES expressed difficulties to get access to data on long term toxicity of the chemicals : this is unacceptable, and REACH regulation should better play its role, just as certain industry stakeholders who are not transparent with risk assessment authorities. », concludes Elisabeth Ruffinengo, advocacy officer for WECF, who attended ANSES’ presentation of the study on October 21st.

(1)    ANSES had first to identify the flame retardants in use in upholstered furniture, before being able to carry out a risk assessment of potential associated risk . The Agency selected a list of 22 “couples” of fabrics-flame retardants used together.
(2)    Recently, NGOs, including WECF opposed proposals at EU and international levels to grant a derogation authorizing the use of Deca-BDE in recycled products : http://www.wecf.eu/download/2015/September/DecaBDEletter.pdf
(3)    According to the legislation applicable in the European Union (incl. France), the resistance flame test is mandatory for upholstered furniture designed for use in public space areas, whereas it is not for those designed or domestic use. This difference would imply an increased use of flame retardants in upholstered furniture in use in public space areas.

Contact :

elisabeth.ruffinengo@wecf.eu Advocacy and Project Officer Health and Environment WECF / + 33 (0)4 50 83 48 13 / + 33 (06 74 77 77 00


more information : press release and ANSES expertise report (in French)





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