Recent research by Indiana University has shown fifteen of the eighteen children’s car seats tested contained new or traditional flame retardant (FR) chemicals.


These chemicals have been linked to a variety of harmful health issues and are therefore regulated in many territories. In this article, we explore the legislative actions on FRs in North America.

Flame retardants are a diverse group of chemicals that are added to a wide variety of materials and products to prevent or slow the spread of fire. They are found in a range of materials, such as building materials, coatings and finishes, foam materials such as those manufactured with polyurethane (PU), textiles and plastics (polymers).

They can broadly be divided into four chemical families:

  • Inorganic
  • Halogenated
  • Organophosphorus
  • Nitrogen-based

Each has a unique set of flame retardancy properties and mechanisms meaning, although they can be used singularly, they can also be used in combination to create better synergistic effects.

Because the ability to retard the progress of flames is so valuable in consumer products, FRs can be found in a wide variety of products we use every day. In addition to children’s car seats, they can be found in baby carriers, adult car seats, changing table pads, clothing, electronics, infant mattresses, mats, nursing pillows, paints and coatings, plastic shipping pallets, presidential upholstered furniture, sleep positioners, strollers and toys

Health Effects of Flame Retardants

As authorities have begun to understand the hazardous properties on FRs, they have begun to introduce restrictions to protect human health and the environment.

FRs have been shown to be persistent and bio-accumulative, and have been associated with reproductive harm, cancer, endocrine disruption and neurodevelopmental effects in humans and other animals. Additionally, consumer products containing polybrominated dipheny ethers (PBDEs) have been reported to release highly toxic dioxins and furans unintentionally when these products are burnt.

The identification in the Indiana University study that fifteen of the eighteen children’s car seats contained FRs has raised particular concerns because the poorly ventilated environment of a vehicle means children will be breathing in harmful chemicals as they leach out of the fabrics and foams. The problem is exacerbated in the warmer summer months.Due to their smaller frame and propensity to place items in their mouths, children are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of FRs.

Stakeholders need to ensure their products comply with relevant flame retardant regulations to ensure continued access to their target markets.

United States of America

Several US jurisdictions regulate flame retardants, including: California, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, San Francisco (California), Vermont, Washington and Washington DC. Although the scope of regulated flame retardants and products varies between jurisdictions, many are related to halogenated or organophosphorus compounds, but some place a blanket ban on FRs in specific products.

Stakeholders should also be aware that some jurisdictions demand the reporting of certain flame retardants when used in children’s products. These states are:

  • Maine: Toxic Chemicals in Children’s Products (Title 38, Chapter 16-D, Priority Chemicals (PCs))
  • Oregon: ORS § 431A.253 to § 431A.280 (High Priority Chemicals of Concern for Children’s Health, (HPCCCHs)
  • Vermont: 18 V.S.A. Chapter 38A (Chemicals of High Concern to Children, CHCCs)
  • Washington: RCW Chapter 70.240 (Children’s Safe Products Act (CSPA), Chemicals of High Concern to Children (CHCCs))

California Proposition 65 (Prop 65)

California’s unique Prop 65, the ‘Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986’, requires the state to maintain and publish a list of chemicals that are known to cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm. The Prop 65 list currently contains more than 860 chemicals.

Prop 65 requires businesses operating in California to provide a clear and reasonable warning before knowingly and intentionally exposing anyone to a chemical on the list. When a chemical is listed, companies are given a twelve-month period to conform to this requirement. There is an exemption when exposure does not pose a risk of cancer or is significantly below levels observed to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. Stakeholders should also note a new and revised language for a clear and reasonable warning became effective in August 2018.

The following organophosphorus and halogenated FRs are included on the Prop 65 list:

  • Tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP)
  • Tris(2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate (TDBPP)
  • Tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCPP)
  • Polybrominated biphenlys (PBBs)
  • Pentabromodiphenyl ether mixture (Penta-BDE, DE-71)

TDCPP was listed as a chemical that can cause cancer in 2011. It has been widely used in polyurethane foam (PU)-containing products, such as upholstered furniture, automotive products, sports equipment, toys, childcare articles, textile coatings and camping tents. Since 2012, there have been multiple settlement agreements involving the reformulation of TDCPP, TDBPP and/or TCEP. Representative settlement agreements on these are summarized in Table 1.

Item Scope Reformulation
1 Children’s travel beds with fabrics ≤ 25 ppm each of TDBPP and TDCPP
2 Plush toys ≤ 25 ppm each of TCEP, TDBPP and TDCPP
3 Polyurethane foam used as a component of another product ≤ 25 ppm each of TCEP, TDBPP and TDCPP
4 Tent/shelter fabrics ≤ 25 ppm each of TCEP, TDBPP and TDCPP
5 Upholstered fitness benches with foam padding ≤ 25 ppm TDCPP
6 Upholstered furniture with foam padding ≤ 25 ppm each of TCEP, TDBPP and TDCPP
Table 1. Representative Prop 65 settlement agreements


TCEP and TDBPP are both regulated under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act (CCPSA). TCEP is prohibited in PU-foam containing products for children under the age of 3, and TDBPP is regulated in products made in whole or in part of textile fibers, intended for use as wearing apparel.

SGS Solutions

We help companies deliver well-designed, functional, durable and safe products to their customers. With a global network of testing laboratories and comprehensive industry, regulatory and technical proficiency, our experts can check a products’ compliance against relevant national and international standards for flame retardants in consumer products.

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For more information, please contact:

Hing Wo Tsang, Ph.D
Global Information and Innovation Manager
t: (+852) 2774 7420

1 Toxic Flame Retardants in Kid's Car Seats May Cause Harm