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Echa recommends restriction on flame retardants in polyurethane foams

Products - Baby flame retardants ©Dessie - Fotolia.com

Echa has recommended that a restriction proposal is prepared on the flame retardants TCEP, TCPP and TDCP in flexible polyurethane (PUR) foams in childcare articles and residential upholstered furniture.

The agency published a screening report on its website that identified a carcinogenicity risk for infants from exposure to the substances. 

A call for evidence in support of a possible restriction proposal took place between 13 December and 8 February, and received 17 responses. 

TCPP and TDCP are used as flame retardants in flexible PUR foams in products such as baby mattresses, car safety seats, baby slings and residential upholstered furniture.

Although TCEP is not in use in the EU, Echa says it may be present as an impurity in other commercial flame retardants or in imported articles.

The three substances are being treated as a group because they have similar uses and are structurally and toxicologically similar.

Baby mattresses were identified as posing the highest carcinogenicity risk to infants, due to the large contact surface area and long duration of contact. A risk of reproductive effects from TCEP and TCPP in mattresses was also identified.

The report says that mattresses for adults may need to be included as well since infants often sleep in their parents’ bed.

Echa now requires a request from the European Commission to initiate preparation of a formal proposal for the REACH Annex XV restriction.

Call for wider scope

The European Furniture Industries Confederation, Efic, submitted a position paper in response to Echa’s call for evidence.

In the paper, Efic president Markus Wiesner says that the restriction proposal should have a wider scope than foam in residential furniture because flame retardants are principally used in public contract furniture throughout the EU.

He says: "In these segments of the furniture market, open flame tests leading to the use of flame retardant chemicals are often requested by regulation, buyers or public authorities."

Efic also says a restriction should be applied to textiles, as well as PUR foam.

EU-wide restriction 

Although Echa recommends an EU-wide restriction, the report says that the UK and Ireland may be exempted or given the choice to opt-out of the ban under certain conditions.

In the UK and Ireland, flammability standards for residential upholstered furniture and some childcare articles require the use of fire retardants.

Other member states only require flame retardants to meet flammability standards for certain products on the office furniture, contract and public markets.

Mr Wiesner says: "A national-based approach would jeopardise consumers’ protection across the EU. It would also set different levels of competitions and barriers to trade in the single market for companies."

Efic is a member of the Alliance for Flame Retardant-Free Furniture, a coalition of 10 organisations which campaigns for fire safety regulations that are harmonised across the EU, but do not require the use of flame retardants.

It lodged a legal complaint with the European Commission against the UK and Irish Fire Safety Regulations in 2016, on the grounds that they pose a barrier to trade in the single market. The Commission told Chemical Watch it is still considering the complaint.

US action

More than a dozen US states have restricted some categories of flame retardants. 

Maine has banned all flame retardants in upholstered furniture and Rhode Island has banned the sale of bedding and furniture treated with organohalogen flame retardants.

Washington state's Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act, restricts the use of five flame retardants in children's products and residential upholstered furniture.

On a national level, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) voted in September to grant an NGO's petition to prohibit the use of organohalogen flame retardants in furniture and several other household product categories.

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