Leading environmental health experts have called for a comprehensive review of UK fire safety regulations, with particular attention to the health and environmental risks of today’s chemical flame retardants.
The health dangers of substances intended to improve fire safety have led experts to demand a series of new measures to reduce the risk.
Flame retardants are widely used to slow or stop the spread of fire. They are regularly used in a variety of products, from sofas and textiles to building materials. However, hundreds of studies have reported the adverse effects of these chemicals, many of which are bioaccumulative and have been linked to a wide range of health risks, including cancer, developmental disorders, and DNA damage. .
The UK has one of the highest uses of flame retardants in the world and we are all exposed to it in our daily lives. Retardants have been found in a variety of places, including homes, schools, offices, and vehicles. They have been found in air and dust, in food and drinking water, and on interior surfaces and textiles, where they can be absorbed by skin contact. The authors add that this exposure is particularly seen in young children who are crawling and picking up objects.
They are also found in natural environments, including rivers, lakes, oceans, and sediments, as well as in fish, mammals, and birds.
Such widespread use has been partly attributed to flame ignition tests which are the main focus of current fire safety standards. Experts have questioned whether these tests are adequate to reduce fire risk and believe that the government’s emphasis on these tests encourages the addition of large amounts of fire retardants to products.
Experts say there is also “significant uncertainty” about the extent to which flame retardants contribute to fire safety, and that there is evidence that flame retardants exacerbate smoke and fire toxicity.
dr. Paul Whaley, from Lancaster University and corresponding author of the statement, said: “There are longstanding concerns about the effectiveness of flame retardants and the health risks associated with them, which the UK government has never reconciled. This needs to change: there needs to be a proper balance of harms and benefits of flame retardants that includes a thorough evaluation of the effectiveness of flame retardants as a fire safety measure, with particular attention to non-harms. intentional effects of UK fire safety policy”.
The evidence-based call to action, made by a group of 13 experts, comes in the form of “A New Consensus on Reconciling Fire Safety with the Environmental and Health Impacts of Chemical Flame Retardants,” published on February 28 in the magazine International Environment.
The authors set out six steps for the government to urgently conduct a comprehensive review of the need for chemical flame retardants, including to incentivize their use.
Instead, the authors call for incentivizing the industry to develop “benign by design” furniture and materials that are inherently less flammable.
They also call for the development of a labeling system to track the use of retardants, allowing them to be identified and disposed of safely.
Also among its recommendations is the need to adopt a systemic approach to fire safety rather than a reductionist approach based on ignition tests.
Professor Ruth Garside, from the University of Exeter, said: “The use of flame retardants is problematic at all stages of the life cycle, and can even exacerbate smoke and toxicity during fires when they are supposed to provide a safety measure Without a clear labeling system, these substances are not disposed of correctly, which means they end up in recycled products.
“A significant proportion of fire deaths are due to inhalation of toxic fumes, so there is no time to waste in reviewing fire safety regulations. We urge the government to take immediate action for the benefit of our health.”
The UK’s Furniture and Fire Regulations have been under review since 2014, but no revised policy has yet been formally proposed.
Professor Frank Kelly from Imperial College London, and co-author of the paper, said: “There is understandable concern about the weakening of existing fire regulations, especially in the wake of tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower fire. However, it is vital that the use of these chemicals and their effectiveness in preventing fires is balanced by the serious long-term impacts on our health and the environment.”
Jamie Page, of the Cancer Prevention & Education Society, said: “Fire safety is a complex and multidisciplinary subject, but the processes are largely dominated by industry. Well-reasoned challenges to current approaches should be noted. This will require more inclusive and transparent public consultation processes that will bring together views from different stakeholders.”
A new consensus on reconciling fire safety with the environmental and health impacts of chemical flame retardants, International Environment (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2023.107782
quotes: Experts Demand Fire Safety Policy Change on Health Impact of Widely Used Flame Retardants (February 27, 2023) Accessed February 27, 2023 at https://End-shutdown.org/news /2023-02-experts-demand-safety-policy-health. html
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