Fire Safety

Polyurethane Foam Association News Release

Polyurethane Foam Association Members Successfully Phase Out
PBDE Flame Retardant Additives

January 17, 2005 Knoxville, Tenn. - Polyurethane Foam Association (PFA) manufacturing members report an almost total phase out of the use of pentabrominateddiphenylether-based (pentaBDE) flame retardant additives in the manufacturing of foam grades for use in home furnishings cushioning applications. PentaBDE, octaBDE and decaBDE are members of the polybrominateddiphenylether (PBDE) group of fire retardant chemicals. OctaBDE and decaBDE additives are not used in the manufacturing of flexible polyurethane foam. The announcement was made after almost two years of conversion work on the part of PFA's manufacturing members and their suppliers of combustion modification additives.

For more than 25 years, pentaBDE additives have been the predominate fire retardant used to help meet the requirements of the Calif. TB117 upholstered furniture flammability standard. TB117 does not apply to mattresses. Currently, fire retardant additives are not required in mattress products. The new California mattress flammability standard (Calif. TB603) that became effective January 1, 2005 requires that finished mattresses be ignition and combustion resistant, but it does not require that mattress components, including foam, perform in a specific manner. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recently announced intent to mandate a similar national mattress flammability standard.

According to Bob Luedeka, PFA Executive Director, the conversion process was one of the most complicated issues ever presented to the flexible polyurethane foam (FPF) industry. "Penta-based combustion modifiers were not only effective as fire retardants, the additives contributed other benefits during the foam manufacturing process, and they did not significantly detract from the comfort, support and durability of the final cushioning products. " Luedeka explained, "So, the problem of finding substitutes for pentaBDE-based products was multi-faceted and complicated by the fact that FPF manufacturing is not a standardized process. Each production facility uses proprietary manufacturing technologies, so each manufacturer had to develop a unique conversion strategy." Vincent Bonaddio, Foamex International Senior Vice-President and President of the PFA, reported that flame retardant suppliers have been responsive to the need for pentaBDE replacement technologies. "Working together with FPF manufacturers, the suppliers were able to commercialize a handful of possible substitutes that could be evaluated by FPF manufacturers," Bonaddio said.

The conversion goals were to:

  • provide the desired level of combustion resistance;
  • meet environmental, health and safety objectives;
  • maintain physical comfort support and durability;
  • protect the foam product from excessive discoloration during production;
  • avoid sacrificing certain product grades that were very soft and / or low density for non-weight bearing applications;
  • sustain reasonable economics so that end products remain commercially viable.

Bonaddio added, "In many cases, finding an alternative combustion modification technology for a particular foam product was a very challenging process. Converting from pentaBDE materials essentially required a complete reformulation of our entire combustion modified product line."

Luedeka reported that, based on the results of a recent poll of PFA manufacturing members, more than 98% of previous pentaBDE-based combustion modified product lines now are pentaBDE-free formulations. "With the exception of a handful of specialty products and a small quantity of traditional cushioning products manufactured to customer specification, PFA members have successfully engineered solutions and now have alternative pentaBDE-free products for almost all combustion modified FPF densities and firmness to meet current flammability requirements."

Furniture manufacturers are urged to contact a PFA manufacturing member for information on pentaBDE-free cushioning alternatives.

The manufacturing members of the Polyurethane Foam Association produce about 70% of all flexible polyurethane foam used in the United States. Flexible polyurethane foam provides long-term comfort and support for upholstered furniture, mattress products, automotive interiors and carpet installations. The PFA was founded in 1980.

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