Do flame retardants actually stop the spread of fires?To answer that question, let’s use flame retardant furniture as an example. The number of upholstered furniture fires in the home environment dropped by 84 percent from 1980, the first year that data were available, to 2009, according to NFPA. While several factors have contributed to that sharp decline, the timeframe coincides with the use of flame retardants to meet flammability standards imposed in California in 1976. In the absence of a national requirement, the California standards were broadly followed by the US furniture industry over the following 20 years. Similar findings have been reported in the United Kingdom where flammability standards also are in place for furniture.
Despite this substantial progress, upholstered furniture remains a significant contributor to home fire deaths, according to NFPA. During the period from 2005 to 2009, while upholstered furniture was the item first ignited in 2 percent of reported home fires, these fires resulted in 19 percent of the home fire deaths.
Looking at U.S. home fires that originated with upholstered furniture between 2005 and 2009, the NFPA reports, “Together, candles, matches and lighters were involved in 21 percent of the fires and 12 percent of the deaths.” By preventing or slowing the spread of these small flames, flame retardants can provide valuable escape time during a home fire.