You may have already heard that flame retardants are toxic, yet companies continue to add them to baby car seats, kids clothing, baby mattresses and even our food. Now in an ironic twist, researchers have found that brominated and chlorinated flame retardants which are routinely added to upholstered furniture and other household items to stop the spread of flames, actually increase emissions of two poisonous gases. Basically by making a product flame retardant via chemicals, companies may actually be making fire even more deadly. Study co-author Anna Stec, a fire specialist at the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom, said in a statement, “We found that flame retardants have the undesirable effect of increasing the amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide released during combustion.” Also important to note is that carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide are by far the biggest killer in fires – they’re responsible for 60 to 80% of all fire deaths, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

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According to Environmental Health News (EHN), the research hasn’t been published yet, so we don’t know all the details. However, EHN notes that researchers say that in one experiment, nylon containing the flame retardant brominated polystyrene released six times more hydrogen cyanide when set on fire than did the same material containing a halogen-free flame retardant. Even if you ignore this new research about deadlier fires, flame retardants leave much to be desired. PBDEs and other halogenated flame retardants are already linked to impaired neurological development, reduced fertility, early onset of puberty and altered thyroid hormones as well as possible toxicity to the developing nervous system. Although flame retardants do play their part by possibly making stuff less burn-friendly, it may not be worth it, if in the end, a deadlier fire occurs. Your best bet, until we know more is to look for products free from chemical flame retardants.

+ How to avoid flame retardants

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