Fire Retardants Chemicals

Knowing what chemicals are in the products around you is important for your safety and health. Chemicals used to make certain products fireproof are commonly referred to as flame retardants.  During a fire, firefighters use a foam that is sprayed on similarly to water.  Various chemicals, depending on the type of fire being controlled, help to suffocate the fire by removing the oxygen from the immediate area where the burn is located.

Coatings on Furniture and Clothing
Flame retardant coatings on materials can react in different ways. Aluminum trihydrate is a compound that acts as a flame retardant. Near 200 degrees it becomes aluminum oxide and water. Boron mixes that are coated on materials react with heat by creating water that absorbs the energy of the fire. In some cases it will also release a boric acid. The acid will aid in charring the surface that will keep gasses from being emitted from the material that is being burned. Magnesium hydroxide reacts at really high temperatures above 300 degrees. Once it reaches high temperatures, it reacts in much the same way as aluminum trihydrate by forming a gas near the surface of the object that slows the burn by blocking the flames.

Brominated Flame Retardants
Brominated flame retardants, or BFRs, are the most widely used flame-retardant product as of 2011. BFRs can be used in everything from textiles for clothing and curtains to plastics for baby bottles and electronics. There are up to 70 different BFRs being synthesized for market use. They include decabromodiphenyl ether, which is considered benign and completely safe, and tetrabromobisphenol A, which is considered toxic.

Mineral compounds that are made into chemicals and then used as flame retardants make up a large portion of the fireproofing chemicals. They include borates, which are chemical and mineral compounds that occur naturally and are the most commonly used mineral-based flame retardant. They also include asbestos and red phosphorus, as well as the less common aluminium hydroxide, hydromagnesite and antimony trioxide(Sb2O3, sometimes called as Antimony(III) oxide or diantimony trioxide). These compounds are the least used of the flame retardants and when used tend to be found in plastics and various construction materials.

There is a lot of speculation about the safety of BFRs and the risk they pose to consumers. Several BFRs have gone out of production because of health risks, and in several European countries the use of BFRs is banned altogether.  Lobbyists, however, have argued that the benefits of lives saved by flame retardants outweighs the risk posed to consumers.