Some of the flame retardants added to carpets, furniture upholstery, plastics, crib mattresses, car and airline seats and other products to suppress the visible flames in fires are actually increasing the danger of invisible toxic gases that are the main of death in fires. Almost 10,000 deaths from fires occur in industrialized countries worldwide each year, including about 3,500 in the US. Contrary to popular belief, inhalation of toxic gases released by burning materials--not burns--causes the most deaths and most of the serious injuries.
Researcher Anna A. Stec focused on the most widely-used category of flame retardants, which contain the chemical element bromine. Scientists term these "halogen-based" flame retardants. Stec says, "Halogen-based flame retardants are effective in reducing the ignitability of materials. We found, however, that flame retardants have the undesirable effect of increasing the amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide released during combustion. These gases, not the thermal effects of burns on the body, are the number one cause of fire deaths."
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