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Flame retardants

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > APPENDIX B: Common chemicals and materials > Flame retardants


Flame retardants are added to plastics, electronic parts, wire coverings, rubber, textiles, wood, and furniture to make them less likely to burn. There are two classes of flame-retardants: halogenated and non-halogenated. Sometimes a flame retardant is used by itself, and sometimes in combination with other flame retardants.

Halogenated flame retardants contain chlorine or bromine. Bromine-based flame-retardants are used more often because they are cheap. Non-halogenated flame retardants contain nitrogen, phosphorous, or metals such as aluminum, magnesium, and antimony. The nitrogen-based and phosphorous-based flame retardants are often used in combination with each other.

Halogenated flame retardants are considered more dangerous to people’s health than non-halogenated ones. Several have been banned in many countries. However, many non-halogenated flame retardants are just as dangerous to your health.

The chart includes only some of the flame retardants that exist. See Learn about chemicals used in your factory and how to find information about other flame retardants. See the Index of chemical names to find alternative names for flame retardants.

Prevent or reduce exposure:

  • Use ventilation systems that extract fumes and replace or dilute dirty air with clean air (see Chapter 17: Ventilation).
  • Enclose operations whenever possible.
  • Do not mix or pour flame retardants by hand.
  • Use gloves when handling flame retardants. Wear correct respirators that fit you. All protective clothing should be clean, available each day, put on before work, and never taken home with you (see Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment).
  • Have an emergency plan that includes first aid treatment and protective equipment for spills, splashes, and accidental exposures. Keep necessary emergency supplies at the work site, stocked, and accessible to workers.
  • Work areas where flame retardants are used, stored, and mixed need to be controlled for heat and monitored for concentration of fumes and vapors. The areas should also have alarms, fire extinguishers, and a fire emergency plan (see Chapter 11: Fire).
Halogenated flame retardants
BROMINATED FLAME RETARDANTS

banned

Polybrominated biphenyl (PBB, FireMaster BP-6) CAS No. 59536-65-1


Might harm reproductive health

might cause cancer



Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE)


Harms reproductive health

might cause cancer



Tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA, 4,4-isopropylidenebis(2,6-dibromophenol)) CAS No. 79-94-7


Might harm reproductive health



CHLORINATED FLAME RETARDANTS

banned

Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB, Aroclor) CAS No. 1336-36-3


Harms reproductive health

Known to cause cancer


WHAT ARE THEY?
Polybrominated biphenyls are white powders. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers are pale yellow or white powders. TBBPA is a white, sandy powder. Polychlorinated biphenyls are light yellow or colorless thick, oily liquids.
DO YOU WORK WITH THEM?
Halogenated flame retardants are added to fabric in garment factories. They are used in electronics factories in plastics, electronic coatings, and wires.
WHEN THEY COME IN CONTACT WITH YOUR BODY
SKIN

They may irritate your skin. You may develop a skin rash, redness, and dryness. Your skin might start peeling, itching, and cracking. See First Aid.

EYES

They may irritate your eyes. See First Aid.

NOSE/LUNGS

The fumes may irritate your nose, throat, and lungs, causing congestion, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest pain. See First Aid.

MOUTH/BELLY

They can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. See First Aid and seek medical attention.

WHEN YOU ARE EXPOSED OVER TIME:

Halogenated flame retardants damage your immune system, mental development, and lower your memory and learning ability. They may damage your thyroid. Signs of hypothyroidism include constipation, sensitivity to cold, weakness, thin hair and nails, and weight gain.

Polybrominated biphenyls may reduce fertility in men and women and slow down a child’s development. They may cause cancer.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers can reduce fertility in men and women, enter into mother’s milk and pass to a baby through breastfeeding, and slow down a child’s development. They may cause cancer.

Tetrabromobisphenol A may reduce fertility in men and women.

Polychlorinated biphenyls can reduce fertility in men and women and slow down a child’s development. They can cause cancer.
IF YOU ARE AT RISK OF EXPOSURE:

Use elbow-length, nitrile gloves, an apron, and eye/face protection (see chapter 18: Personal protective equipment).

Use a supplied-air respirator.
SAFER SUBSTITUTES:
Non-halogenated flame retardants are safer alternatives to halogenated flame retardants. Tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA) is one of the less dangerous halogenated flame retardants.


Non-halogenated flame retardants
INORGANIC FLAME RETARDANTS


Aluminium hydroxide CAS No. 21645-51-2






Antimony trioxide (diantimony trioxide, FireShield) CAS No. 1309-64-4


Might harm reproductive health

might cause cancer


NITROGEN-BASED FLAME RETARDANTS


Melamine cyanurate (melamine isocyanurate) CAS No. 37640-57-6





PHOSPHOROUS-BASED FLAME RETARDANTS


Red phosphorus (amorphous phosphorus) CAS No. 7723-14-0

fire or explosive





Triphenyl phosphate (TPP) CAS No. 115-86-6

fire or explosive




WHAT ARE THEY?
Aluminium hydroxide is a white powder similar to flour without smell. Antimony trioxide and melamine cyanurate are powders like sand without smell. Red phosphorus is red powder without smell. Triphenyl phosphate (TPP) is a white, crystalline powder with a sweet smell.
DO YOU WORK WITH THEM?
Phosphorous-based and nitrogen-based flame retardants are added to fabric in garment factories. They are also added to circuit board coatings and electronic parts. Inorganic flame retardants are added to plastics during melting and extrusion.
WHEN THEY COME IN CONTACT WITH YOUR BODY
SKIN

They may irritate your skin. You may develop a skin rash, redness, and dryness. Your skin might start peeling, itching, and cracking. See First Aid.

EYES

They may irritate your eyes. Red phosphorus may damage the cornea (the tissue that covers the front of the eye). See First Aid.

NOSE/LUNGS

The dust may irritate your nose, throat, and lungs, causing congestion, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Inhaling antimony trioxide can cause throat ulcers. See First Aid.

MOUTH/BELLY

They can cause stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting. Antimony trioxide can cause metallic taste in the mouth. See First Aid and seek medical attention.

WHEN YOU ARE EXPOSED OVER TIME:

Non-halogenated flame retardants damage your liver and kidneys.

Aluminium hydroxide dust can scar your lungs, cause pneumoconiosis, weaken your muscles and soften your bones. Signs of pneumoconiosis are cough and shortness of breath.

Antimony trioxide damages your heart and lungs. It may reduce fertility in men and women, cause miscarriages, and hurt a baby in the womb. It may cause lung cancer.

Melamine cyanurate affects your urinary tract and may cause bladder stones.

Red phosphorus damages your heart and lungs. It can cause bronchitis and anemia.

Triphenyl phosphate may affect the nervous system, causing weakness and poor coordination in the arms and legs.
IF YOU ARE AT RISK OF EXPOSURE:

Use elbow-length, butyl rubber gloves, an apron, and eye/face protection (see Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment).

Use a respirator with a particle filter designed for solid particle filtration.
SAFER SUBSTITUTES:
Alternative materials for computer devices and plastics that do not require flame retardants at all, such as glass, metal, and low voltage wires, should be used.


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