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UK government consults on the use of flame retardants in furniture

Since 2012, the SNS has been actively involved in the development of standards on the safety of electrical and electronic equipment under discussion both at European and international level.

The specific concern over these standards were clauses that indirectly favour the use of hazardous flame retardants. These types of chemical substances are commonly added to electronic and electrical equipment to enhance their fire safety by inhibiting ignition and slowing the rate of combustion. Some types of flame retardants, notably brominated flame retardants (BRFs), have known toxic properties, are highly resistant to degradation in the environment and are able to bioaccumulate in humans and animals.

Some BRFs are now widespread environmental pollutants present in the atmosphere and in water courses. These compounds can be also released from products containing them during their use, resulting in increased human exposure.

Flame retardants are not only used to enhance fire safety of household appliances, but are a prescribed method for fire protection in furniture and furnishings. Recognising the growing health and environmental concerns over their widespread use, the UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BSI) is currently consulting with British furniture manufacturers on how to reduce the impact of BRFs.

Proposals include the elimination of BRF use in furniture covers in lieu of the consistent addition of BRFs to foam padding. This is expected to result in a cut by 50 percent in the use of BRFs.

While the SNS agrees with the need to eliminate the use of BRFs and welcomes BIS’s proposals, we urge the UK government to support efforts to invest in the development of alternatives to flame retardants and to provide a national framework for a Green Chemicals Startegy.

The BIS consultation on amendments to the furniture fire safety regulations runs until the 7th October 2014 and the consultation documents can be accessed here.

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