What are the protective benefits of flame retardants?Flame retardants play a unique role in fire prevention and fire safety. They not only prevent fires from starting, but if a fire does occur, they slow down the spread of the fire and improve the opportunity for safe escape. Their role in delaying flashover, for example, is especially critical to escaping the deadly consequences of fire. Flashover occurs when every flammable object in a room bursts into flames at the same time as a result of a combination of intense heat and the release of flammable gases. This can occur in just a few minutes, and flame retardants’ function in slowing this process down can be the difference between life and death.
The benefits of flame retardants are well documented in studies and in real life examples.
The August 2005 fiery crash of a passenger jet in Toronto, Canada, in which all 309 people aboard survived, is one example. On August 5, 2005, the Washington Post reported, “The fire-retardant material now required in aircraft cabins may have helped slow the spread of flames and smoke, enabling all crew members and passengers to escape.” The plane was subject to “new regulations requiring fire-retardant treatment of seat cushions, carpet and other materials…”
In September 2009, at a conference on flame retardants and firefighter health, the Materials Flammability Group of the National Institute of Standards and Technology presented the following findings: flame retardant products studied provide a 15 times greater escape time compared to non-flame retardant treated products, and flame retardant treated products had a three-to-four times lower heat release rate and lower quantity of toxic gases released relative to the non-flame retardant product tests.
A December 2009 report, commissioned in the U.K. by the Consumer and Competition Policy Directorate of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), examined the effectiveness of that nation’s flammability standards for furniture and furnishings (F&F). F&F products sold in the U.K. must meet three specific tests: cigarette ignition, match ignition, and ignitability of flaming sources. The ability of these products to meet flammability standards typically requires the use of flame retardants. An analysis of recent fire data offered a strong endorsement of the regulations and the use of flame retardants they require. The report found: “Both the number and lethality of F&F fires rose before the introduction of the regulations and fell afterwards.” According to BIS, “the reduction in the rate and lethality of F&F fires was estimated to equate to 54 lives saved per year, 780 fewer casualties per year and 1065 fewer fires per year in the period 2003-2007.”