News Brief

Increase Fire Safety Without Flame Retardants, Group Urges

The Steiner Tunnel Test for flamespread does not give accurate results for foam insulation products, a new resolution contends.

Certain flame retardants pose serious health and environmental risks without significantly increasing fire safety, according to a consensus statement being circulated this week at the U.S. Green Building Council’s Greenbuild convention in San Francisco. The resolution gathers fire safety experts, chemists, architects, and environmentalists under a banner of changing flammability requirements for foam insulation in the International Residential Code (IRC).

The statement lays out several reasons to forego halogenated flame retardants (those containing halogens like chlorine and bromine in their chemical makeup), many of which are persistent, bioaccumulative toxic chemicals that are being phased out of industry throughout the world. The reasons include:

• The addition of flame retardants at concentrations typically used in foam insulation does not significantly improve fire safety performance.

• Thermal barriers like drywall provide far better protection than chemical flame retardants.

• Test procedures for fire safety do not provide accurate results when testing foam insulation.

The resolution is the first step in an effort to build momentum for modifying the residential code. The group argues the code should no longer require flame retardants in foam insulation if the insulation is used with a thermal barrier like drywall or if it is used on the exterior of a building below grade.

BuildingGreen’s founder and executive editor, Alex Wilson, who helped organize the meeting on flame retardants at which this resolution was introduced, argues that “in boosting energy performance of buildings, we don’t want to sacrifice the health of building occupants or the environment.”

Wilson—along with chemist Arlene Blum, Ph.D., homebuilder and code expert David Eisenberg, and others involved with the initiative—believe that removing flame retardants from foam insulation will make buildings healthier while maintaining fire safety and actually reducing construction costs. “The proposed code changes would truly be win-win-win solutions,” Wilson said. “But bringing about these changes will be an uphill effort that will require a lot of hard work and support from progressive building professionals and manufacturers.”

He added that it is still possible for others to join the consensus statement as signatories.

For more information:

Green Science Policy Institute


Published November 15, 2012

Melton, P. (2012, November 15). Increase Fire Safety Without Flame Retardants, Group Urges. Retrieved from

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