Brominated flame retardants (BFR) are added to many plastics and consumer products to reduce flammability, but they leach out and have been associated with hormone disruption and developmental neurotoxicity.
Found in Products
Brominated flame retardants are commonly found in the following products:
Electronics – Used in plastic casings, circuit boards, cables of TVs, computers, cellphones.
Furniture – Added to foam padding in couches, chairs, mattresses.
Curtains and upholstery – Used to treat fabrics.
Building insulation – Added to extruded and expanded polystyrene foam insulation.
Plastic covers of electrical equipment – Found in covers of wiring, appliances.
Children’s toys – Used in plastic dolls, blocks, and other toys.
Plastic pipes and profiles – Added to pipes, panels, and construction materials.
Automobile parts – Used in plastic components of cars and planes.
Textiles – Can be applied as coatings to clothes and shoes.
Exposure occurs when these flame retardants leach out into air, dust, and food over time. Electronics, furniture, and insulation are major plastic sources.
Some of the major health risks associated with exposure to brominated flame retardants include:
Thyroid hormone disruption – These chemicals have been shown to interfere with thyroid hormone levels and signaling.
Neurodevelopmental toxicity – Associated with impaired motor, cognitive, and behavioral development in children.
Reproductive toxicity – Linked to altered male and female reproductive hormone levels and changes in reproductive organ development and fertility.
Cancer risk – Exposure linked to increased risk of breast, prostate and testicular cancers. The carcinogenic mechanisms are still being studied.
Persistence and bioaccumulation – Brominated flame retardants are lipophilic and accumulate in fat tissue, breast milk and other areas of the body. This leads to prolonged exposure.
Immune effects – Possible links to reduced immune response and autoimmune conditions.
How To Avoid
- Avoid electronics and furniture containing polyurethane foam purchased before 2005, when some chemicals were phased out.
- Check labels and opt for electronics, furniture, mattresses marketed as “flame retardant free” or containing “polyester fiber fill”.
- Ventilate new electronics/furniture before use, air out rooms frequently. Brominated chemicals off-gas readily.
- Use a vacuum with HEPA filter, wet mopping to reduce contaminated house dust.
- Wash hands frequently, especially before eating to minimize dust ingestion.
- Avoid carpet padding and shiny plastic clothing (can contain brominated coatings).
- Reduce consumption of fatty animal products which accumulate higher levels of these persistent chemicals.
- Support policies to restrict flame retardant use to essential applications. Advocate for transparency of chemicals in products.
While difficult to avoid completely given how ubiquitous they are, reducing exposure to brominated flame retardants is important especially for vulnerable groups like children.