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The FRETWORK Forum held in February discussed a paper  published in Chemosphere in December 2017: Flame retardants in UK furniture increase smoke toxicity more than they reduce fire growth rate. It claimed proof that there is a problem with flame retardants (FRs) causing fires to be more toxic and thus to be more responsible for domestic fire deaths than previously thought.


The Supply Chain must take these claims seriously and be prepared to respond to any proper concerns raised. This response is intended to inform the supply chain with reasoned discussion of the merits of the paper and its claims.

For simplicity these briefing notes will contain abbreviations:

UK FFR  = UK Furniture Fire Regulations, STF = Smoke and Toxic Fumes and FRs = Flame Retardants. STUART is used to represent the output of networked debate of the issues amongst industry professionals. The explanation of the  acronym and many individual technical points can be found in the pages of the FRETWORK web site.

The report uses large ignition sources to represent actual fire scenarios and compares the toxicity of STF in fires using compliant and non-compliant test assemblies. The report has been used to link high injury and death rates in large fires to the presence of FRs in the furniture.


STUART thinks the following points are very important:

  • The UK FFR is concerned with preventing fires starting in easily ignited articles.
  • Its objective is IGNITION RESISTANT furniture based on small ignition source testing.
  • Reducing fire growth rate is not a tested aspect of the UK FFR and is seldom considered as an issue with textile furniture covers and fillings and where ease of ignition is the major risk.
  • The report accepts that successful performance of UK FFR compliant articles leads to no deaths or injuries being recorded and are thus absent in the statistics they base their findings on.


STUART’s biggest doubt is that the report doesn’t really identify how the claimed increased toxicity causes more injuries and deaths.

  • Originally it was clearly established that small ignition sources could initiate very toxic fires that took a long time to develop and they always involved large amounts of STF which was responsible for the injury and death rates.
  • The fires started in the sitting room and produced the typical large amounts of STF found in a fire’s early ignition phase. This was the cause  of injury and death to the occupants of the dwelling whilst they slept. Lack of discovery was an issue.
  • The paper is looking to a point where fires are developed beyond small ignition sources without taking discovery into account.
  • This comparison and lack of identified risk scenario must cast doubt on the hypothesis that any increase in the toxicity of STF could play a role in the fire death and injury rates.
  • Recent fire service reports such as the West Yorkshire report and other National action schemes: ( continue to show that smokers materials or small ignition sources remain a considerable cause for concern in domestic fire statistics.


STUART must ask the questions: Do the papers authors really understand the UK FFR and do they understand textiles? Is it good practice to ignore a clear and well documented case for ignition resistance as the basis for arguing for an alternative.


Many of the technical issues raised in this piece are expanded upon in short articles in the FORUM section of this web site and an out-takes version of these comments is also available.

Peter Wragg
Peter Wragg
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