FIRE RETARDANTS IN COMMERCIAL FURNISHINGS FASHION INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY FIRE RETARDANTS IN...
S.U.N.Y FASHION INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY FIRE RETARDANTS IN COMMERCIAL FURNISHINGS A MASTER THESIS Presented to the Faculty of the Sustainable Interior Environments at the School of Graduate Studies, Fashion Institute of Technology In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Sustainable Interior Environments BY JESSICA NEWS MENTOR: JEAN HANSEN MAY 2013
FIRE RETARDANTS IN COMMERCIAL FURNISHINGS FASHION INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY FIRE RETARDANTS IN COMMERCIAL FURNISHINGS A MASTER THESIS Presented to the Faculty of the Sustainable Interior
This is to certify that the undersigned approve the thesis submitted by
In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts
in Sustainable Interior Environments
_____________________________________________________ GRAZYNA PILATOWICZ, CHAIRPERSON ________________________________________________________________ JEAN HANSEN, MENTOR ________________________________________________________________ MARY DAVIS, DEAN, SCHOOL OF GRADUATE STUDIES
Bioaccumulation and potential negative health implications have
raised concerns over the use of some fire retardant chemicals. In the
design and building industry, fire retardants are required in some
furnishings to meet building code requirements. This paper seeks to
reveal the current state of affairs regarding fire retardants in commercial
building furnishings. An outline of the history of fire retardants; the
benefits and risks associated with their use; regulatory actions; and
recent proceedings are presented.
Because of the controversy surrounding some fire retardants,
designers and those who specify furniture need to understand what fire
retardants are used in furniture and how they are applied. As a part of
this report, a study was conducted with furniture manufacturers to
reveal construction methods, fire retardant materials utilized, and
manufacturing approaches to meeting fire codes.
It was determined through this study, that the application of a barrier
material is used frequently to meet the strictest code requirements.
Future research, however, is still needed to determine which fire
retardant chemicals are being used.
I have always had a profound interest in how spaces affect people.
I went to design school with the hope of being able to help shape people’s
experiences in our world. Since that first year of school I have been
keenly attached to the definition of an interior designer, one who
“protects and enhances the health, life=safety, and welfare of the public.”
Three years into my profession, a colleague, Jean Hansen, gave a
presentation about environmental chemicals in our building materials. I
was astounded, to say the least. Before then, I had never known of the
potential negative health implications of our materials and finishes
selections. I had always seen materials and finishes as an opportunity to
further a design concept and enhance the intended ‘feeling.’ I never
would have thought my interest in impacting a person’s experience in
space would include their physical health. But as an embodiment of the
definition of an ‘interior designer,’ I felt it was my ethical responsibility to
fully understand environmental toxins and help spread awareness of the
prospective uncertainties. This paper is the culmination of two years of
master’s level study in the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Sustainable
Interior Environments program where I have begun my journey into
understanding and advocating for healthy environments.
This paper is dedicated to all researchers, and educators, and all
those who question ‘accepted’ practices and who demand higher
Special acknowledgement is given to Jean Hansen, my thesis
mentor, a pioneer in her field and champion of design that ‘protects and
enhances the health, life safety and welfare of the public.’ Thanks are
also due to Grazyna Pilatowicz, the chair and founder of the Sustainable
Interior Environments Masters Program at the Fashion Institute of
Technology, for asserting research and sustainability in interior design
education. Finally, very personal and special thanks are given to my
colleagues, friends, and family who have supported me throughout all my
endeavors. All of this would not be possible without your help.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ABSTRACT ........................................................................................... iii BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH...................................................................... iv
DEDICATION ......................................................................................... v
ACKNOWLEDGMENT ........................................................................... vi TABLE OF CONTENTS ......................................................................... vii LIST OF FIGURES .............................................................................. viii LIST OF TABLES ................................................................................ viii ABBREVIATIONS .................................................................................. ix
3,4,5,6=tetrabromo=benzenedicarboxylate or (2=ethylhexyl)=3,4,5,6
tetrabromophthalate (TBPH), Tris(2=chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP), and
HBCDD. Because there is not sufficient data for assessment of all the 20
chemicals, eight others with similar characteristics will be grouped and
reviewed with those listed above to advise the assessment (EPA, 2013).
“To ban a chemical already on the market, the EPA must prove
that it poses an "unreasonable risk." Federal courts have established
such a narrow definition of "unreasonable" that the government couldn't
even ban asbestos, a well=documented carcinogen that has killed
thousands of people who suffered devastating lung diseases. (Hawthorne,
Chicago Tribune , 2012)”
In the past, the EPA has enacted TSCA action plans for some other
flame retardant chemicals. Currently, risk management actions are
being pursued for HBCD, PentaBDE, OctaBDE, and DecaBDE. However
only a quarter of the over 80,000 industrial chemicals in use in the
United States today have ever been tested for toxicity. In the Chicago
Tribune series, writers question how fire retardants currently on the
market differ from those banned in the past. According to one particular
article, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act limits the government’s
ability to regulate chemicals. The chart below outlines flame retardant
chemicals that have been banned and replaced.
FIGURE 7 FLAME RETARDANT REPLACEMENTS
(HAWTHORNE, NIELAND, & EADS, FLAME RETARDANTS AND THEIR RISKS, 2012)
In 2004, the European Union banned PentaBDE from sale. As a
result, United States manufacturers phased the chemical out of
production along with another PBDE congener, OctaBDE (EPA, 2012).
PentaBDE was the primary flame retardant used in furniture foam from
1980 to 2004 (Shaw, et al., 2010). “Alternative chemical flame
retardants have since been used and identified as PentaBDE
replacements in polyurethane foam. However, basic information on
these alternative flame retardants, such as chemical identity, specific
product applications, and volumes used, are typically not available,
significantly restricting human and environmental health evaluations.
Many of the chemical ingredients in flame retardant mixtures are
proprietary and are not disclosed by the chemical manufacturers, even to
manufacturers using these chemicals in their final end products (e.g.,
furniture) (Stapleton, et al., 2011).”
With continual concern over the bioaccumulation of certain flame
retardants and potential toxicity, it is important to understand the use of
flame retardants in furniture.
The history of fire retardants; and the benefits, risks, regulatory
actions, and recent proceedings outlined above provide some
understanding of the use of flame retardants. Further study is required
to understand how furniture manufacturing is impacted by rising
concerns over the use of flame retardants in furnishings. The remainder
of this paper outlines the methods and results of a primary research
study intended to reveal exactly how furniture manufacturers are
currently meeting fire regulations.
CHAPTER 3: ANALYSIS
The existing state of affairs with regards to flame retardants in
furniture has been examined above. To test the application of the
knowledge gained and to fully understand the process of making
commercial furniture fire retardant, primary research with selected
furniture manufacturers was conducted. An analysis of the method of
research is presented in this chapter.
TYPE AND DESCRIPTION OF STUDIES
Research has been developed through a grounded theory study, in
which data was collected to inform a theory. Descriptive studies with
quantitative data were used to support and advise the research.
DATA COLLECTION STRATEGIES
Qualitative data was collected through a multi=method approach.
Data collection was flexible as to allow the data to inform the study and
change over time. Initially, however, data collection focused on gathering
secondary research to inform the primary field studies. The secondary
research can be found in Chapter 2’s Review of Literature.
Secondary research was gathered from various sources. A
complete understanding of the history of fire retardants and life safety
codes for public spaces developed the frame for the remaining research.
Life safety building code research was informed by the 2012 version of
the International Building Code book and the International Code Council
Primary research was gathered predominantly through interviews
and questionnaires with furniture manufacturers. Interviews were
conducted with furniture manufacturer’s technical specialist, foam
suppliers, and other industry members involved in fire retardant
Case studies were conducted involving three different lounge
chairs from three different reputable commercial manufacturers. All
chairs analyzed are able to be manufactured to meet the most stringent
fire codes. Questionnaires and correspondence with the manufacturers
were conducted to evaluate how the chairs are constructed to meet fire
codes. Questions were posed about the chair’s internal components, fire
retardant products and usage, fire retardants application methods, fire
testing procedures for TB 117/NFPA 260, TB 116/NFPA 261 and TB
133/NFPA 266, and alternative methods for providing fire retardant
Questionnaires were used to gather quantitative data to support
the research. Questionnaires were distributed to select commercial
furniture manufacturers regarding a pre=selected upholstered chair. The
questionnaires for manufacturers were intended to reveal manufacturer’s
fire retardant usage, the products they typically use to pass TB
117/NFPA 260, TB 116/NFPA 261 and TB 133/NFPA 266, if alternatives
are available, and if alternatives are frequently specified.
DATA ANALYSIS STRATEGIES
To synthesize and analyze, primary data was categorized by the
origin of the source. Using a comparative method, data was analyzed and
compared against information gathered from each source. These
findings will inform further investigations, to fill in gaps in current
industry knowledge. The results from the questionnaires intend to reveal
information regarding typical manufacturing processes and fire retardant
Secondary data is intended to document current knowledge
regarding the history of fire retardants; and the benefits, risks, and
regulatory actions associated with their use. Secondary data was used to
inform questionnaires and interview questions. It was also used in
conjunction with primary data to formulate conclusions.
Interview data assisted in gathering source information and was
used to confirm the current state of knowledge regarding fire retardants
and their use in commercial furniture. Interview data gathered also
helped inform sources of further research.
Three manufacturers provided responses to a questionnaire about
one of their upholstered lounge chairs. For the purpose of this study,
we will be referring to these three manufacturers as Manufacturer A,
Manufacturer B, and Manufacturer C. A copy of the questionnaire is
available in Appendix A.
When asked about the typical construction methods for their
upholstered lounge chairs, the three manufacturers responded similarly,
although providing varying amount of detail in their responses. Two of
the chairs are constructed with a wood frame and one is constructed
with a steel frame. All three chairs feature foam and an upholstery
fabric, which will vary based on purchaser’s selection. The
manufacturers all have a steel component to their chair bases.
Manufacturer B utilizes nylon strands where Manufacturer C utilizes
elastic webbing in their suspension. All three manufacturers responded
that this is a typical construction method for their upholstered lounge
The three manufacturers had different responses when asked
about whether fire retardant treatments are applied to the chair.
Manufacturer A responded that fire retardant options are available on all
their products. Manufacturer B replied yes, but referenced later
responses to questions about how their chair meets fire test
requirements. Manufacturer C replied that no treatments were applied,
although a fireguard is upholstered over the unit prior to the upholstery
fabric application. They also noted that special foam is utilized when
intending to meet TB 133 testing.
When asked to describe the fire testing procedures all the
manufacturers responded that chair testing is performed by an
independent lab or the supplier. Manufacturer B did reply that TB 133
is a composite test of the entire chair in which open flame is exposed to
the chair for 80 seconds and that the total duration of the test is up to
an hour. When the flame is removed, if there is no evidence of flame or
smoke than the test concludes, and the chair would pass the
requirements for TB 133.
Manufacturer B replied that they do not test to the NFPA260
standard. The manufacturer noted that given the raw materials they
use to comply with the TB 117, they should comply with NFPA 260. The
manufacturer also provided the testing report provided by the third party
testing lab, Intertek, which outlines the testing procedure and results for
The manufacturers were then asked to describe how their chair’s
construction and/or what treatment processes are required for the chair
to meet fire testing requirements outlined in TB 117/NFPA 260, TB 116/
NFPA 261, and TB 133/NFPA 266.
For each question, Manufacturer A replied that they only test to TB
133 and did not provide a description of how their chairs are
manufacturer to meet TB 117/NFPA 260 or TB 116/NFPA 261. To
comply with TB 133 testing, manufacturer A wraps a barrier product
called 810054 Fire Guard F187 between the foam and the upholstery
fabric or leather.
Manufacturer B replied that TB 117 addresses foam and fabric.
They note that no fire retardants are added to the fabric to meet TB 117
however, fire retardants are standard in the slab stock foam they
purchase. The respondent noted that the slab stock foam is TB 117
rated and that they purchase their foam from a large distributor with
little or no control over the ingredients included in the process. They
also note that they are unsure of the specific fire retardant used but it is
likely they are halogenated, either brominated or chlorinated.
Manufacturer B replied that they do not test to TB 116/NFPA 261. For
TB 133/NFPA 266, by special order, Manufacturer B provides a barrier
cloth which contains PBDE flame retardants. The barrier cloth is
laminated to the fabric then attached to the chair using standard
manufacturing methods. The manufacturer notes that only 20=30 pieces
have been sold in the past two years however they are seeking an
alternative to this barrier cloth.
Manufacturer C responded that all furniture construction is
manufactured to conform to TB 117. Upholstery is not apart of this
construction, as it is not produced by the furniture manufacturer. NFPA
260 is met by using Perflex AC/Blue line Braided Welt Cord (#aB0097)
which contains soft pliable aluminum foil to dissipate heat.
Manufacturer C meets TB 133 requirements by using a fireguard barrier
to completely encapsulate the upholstery materials or “FIRERETARD
especially [a specially] formulated foam material”. The manufacturer
notes that they determine which method to use depending on the
product and will certify that the furniture will pass TB 133 with either
method when used in conjunction with fabrics which pass TB 117.
In conclusion, each manufacturer was asked if there are any
special construction options related to fire retardant treatments for the
chair. Manufacturers B and C replied “no” while Manufacturer A
referenced another section. It is not clear to the researcher if
Manufacturer A offers any other manufacturing options related to fire
Responses from the three manufacturers are charted below
for reference and comparison.
TABLE 1: QUESTIONNAIRE RESPONSES
CHAPTER 4: RESULTS
Input provided directly from furniture manufacturers in
combination with secondary research provides some understanding of
upholstered furniture construction methods and answers questions
regarding how manufacturers approach fire testing. Further research is
required to confirm what fire retardant treatments are applied to meet
the required standards.
It is observed that most commercial upholstered furniture is
constructed in a similar manner, with a frame, support webbing, foam
padding, and fabric.
FIGURE 8: TYPICAL UPHOLSTERED FURNITURE CONSTRUCTION DETAIL
(KRASNY, PARKER, & BABRAUSKAS, 2001)
FIRE TESTING PROCEDURES
Commercial manufacturers send products to independent
laboratories for testing. The three manufacturers participating in the
study only tested to TB 133 requirements. It may be inferred that
manufacturers test to this standard because it is a component test
requiring a mock=up.
The study’s participating manufacturers did not mention testing
for TB 117. Two of the manufacturers mentioned however that all
furniture construction, not upholstery, meets TB 117 requirements. One
of the manufacturers even mentioned the slab stock foam being TB 117
rated. Because all components of furniture are individually tested in the
TB 117 standard, are manufacturers simply procuring TB 117 compliant
materials to construct the furnishings?
The Association of Contract Textiles has set TB 117 as a standard
performance guideline for contract fabrics (ACT, 2010). The
Polyurethane Foam Association notes TB 117 as the most commonly
used test for flexible polyurethane foam products (Stone, 1998).
Therefore, it seems, most fabric and foam are manufactured to meet TB
117 standards. Further study is needed to determine how the study’s
participating manufacturers are meeting TB 117 requirements without
FIRE RETARDANT MATERIALS
Only one of the participating manufacturers for the study
confirmed use of fire retardant materials in their foam. The
manufacturer was not able to provide any information about the specific
fire retardant chemical used. The Polyurethane Foam Association (PFA)
reported that typical US fire retardant additives for foam are either
mixtures of brominated flame retardants and phosphate esters such as
Firemaster 550 and 600, or chlorinated phosphate esters such as TDCP.
According to the PFA, non=halogenated flame retardants have a small but
growing base. The Polyurethane Foam Association also notes that
phosphorous=based flame retardants are only useful in foams requiring
firm densities, and that OctaBDE and DecaBDE have not been used
successfully (Luedeka, 2011). According to this statement, it could be
inferred that flexile polyurethane foam in the United States is treated
with either brominated flame retardants or phosphate esters or
chlorinated phosphate esters.
APPROACHES TO MEETING FIRE STANDARDS
From both this study and secondary research sources, it is
perceived that furniture manufacturers are meeting TB 133 standard by
wrapping foam with a barrier material. In Halogenated Flame
Retardants: Do the Fire Safety Benefits Justify the Risks? , fireproof
barrier fabric or batting (such as fiberglass or Kevlar based materials) is
discussed as one of two options to meet the strict TB 133 requirements.
It is also stated that a fire retarded upholstery fabric or inherently fire
retardant fabric can be used with high=risk use specially designed foam
(Shaw, et al., 2010). Manufacturer C also reported this as an option to
meet TB 133. The EPA has reported that barrier technologies could be
an alternative approach to traditional methods. Layering allows a
product to maintain its fire resistance even after another layer is
compromised. Some barrier materials are natural fibers such as cotton
with a chemical treatment, typically boric acid. Another option is a blend
of synthetic materials, such as Kevlar, Nomex, polybenzimidazole, VISIL,
Basofil and natural fibers. A third option is to utilize synthetics fibers
with inherent flame resistance. Fire=retardant films, such as Neoprene,
are also being utilized (EPA, 2012).
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSION
REVIEW OF FINDINGS
Although there are some similarities in responses from all three
respondents, exact conclusions cannot be draw about how exactly
commercial furniture manufacturers meet all the fire safety regulations.
It seems a standard practice to wrap foams in=order to meet TB 133;
however the study did not reveal which materials are being used to
encase the foam. It is also unclear from the study how manufacturers
are meeting TB 117.
The results of this study are a reflection of the time in which this
report was written. The primary research gathered for this study is
obtained from willing participants and thus does not reflect the entirety
of the industry. These factors limit both the quantity and quality of the
This study reveals a gap in the design industry’s knowledge. From
information presented in this paper, designers and those who specify
furniture should have been made aware of the controversies surrounding
fire retardants. With the rising concerns over the potential negative
health consequences related to fire retardants, design industry
professions need a better understanding of manufacturing processes.
Designers should seek information about specific chemicals utilized in
product they are specifying. By pushing for transparency in products
and processes, designers can have an impact on the furnishing industry.
Future Research is required to truly understand how
manufacturers are meeting strict fire regulations.
Since some furnishing components are procured, more research is
required to determine how fire retardants are used in those components.
This applies to components such as fabrics and filling materials.
Because of the complicated supply chains involved in
manufacturing, future research may be more viable if conducted first
with raw material and/or component suppliers. Upholstered furniture
fabric and foam suppliers may be able to better supply information
regarding specific treatments applied to products prior to their
distribution to furniture manufacturers.
With the pending changes in TB 117, research needs to be
conducted with product suppliers and furniture manufacturers to reveal
if and how processes will change. It may also be useful to study the use
and application of barrier materials in furnishings, as the changes to TB
117 could increase usage of those materials.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
In order to truly protect the health, life safety, and welfare of the
public, interior designers must understand the implications of all their
decisions. Designers shape interior environments but must abide by
building codes and standards. It is important for interior designer to
understand how furniture manufacturers are meeting these codes.
Although construction methods for commercial upholstered furniture
seemed similar across all study participants, more research is required
to expose exactly how manufactures are meeting fire codes and which, if
any, fire retardant materials are utilized. Designers must demand more
information, a higher standard, and quality and safety in processes and
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