Israel, Brett

Burning Irony: Flame Retardants Might Create Deadlier Fires

By Brett Israel
Environmental Health News

In one of the deadliest nightclub fires in American history, 100 people died at a concert in Rhode Island nearly a decade ago. But the biggest killer wasn't the flames; it was lethal gases released from burning sound insulation and other plastics. In a fatal bit of irony, attempts to snuff fires like this catastrophic one could be making some fires even more deadly.

New research suggests that chemicals – brominated and chlorinated flame retardants – that are added to upholstered furniture and other household items to stop the spread of flames are increasing emissions of two poisonous gases. In one experiment, nylon containing the flame retardant brominated polystyrene released six times more hydrogen cyanide when set afire than the same material containing a halogen-free flame retardant. Hydrogen cyanide, used in the Nazi gas chambers, is 35 times more deadly than carbon monoxide. During a fire, it can kill in as little as one minute.