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17 Flame Retardants: Chemistry, Applications, and Environmental Impacts

Part 1. Fundamentals and Safety

  1. Adrian Beard1,
  2. David Angeler2

Published Online: 15 JUL 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9783527628148.hoc017

Handbook of Combustion

Handbook of Combustion

How to Cite

Beard, A. and Angeler, D. 2010. Flame Retardants: Chemistry, Applications, and Environmental Impacts. Handbook of Combustion. 1:17:415–439.

Author Information

  1. 1

    Clariant Produkte (Deutschland) GmbH, Hürth-Knapsack, Germany

  2. 2

    SLU Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment, Uppsala, Sweden

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 JUL 2010


Flame retardants, also often referred to as fire retardants, are a diverse group of chemicals which are added to plastics, wood, or textiles to reduce their flammability. Steel is coated with flame-retardant formulations to provide thermal insulation in the case of fire, in order to prevent the rapid collapse of a steel structure; flame retardants are also used in forest fire fighting to reduce the speed of fire spread. Flame retardants are classified according to their “active” chemical element: the main groups include products based on bromine, chlorine (halogenated flame retardants), phosphorus, nitrogen, aluminum, magnesium and, to a lesser extent, boron and carbon (expandable graphite). Apart from the different active elements, flame retardants cover a broad range of chemistries, from inorganic small molecules to organic oligomers or substances which can form part of a polymer structure. The flame-retarding effect can be achieved by several different mechanisms: for example, “poisoning” of the chemical reactions in the flame zone, formation of char on the surface of the burning item, or release of inert gases. Since the mid 1990s, the use of nanoscale materials has been investigated, although nanoclay minerals and carbon nanotubes have not yet found significant commercial use. Since the 1990s, flame retardants have begun to raise environmental concerns, because some brominated flame retardants (e.g., polybrominated diphenylethers, PBDE) were found to form halogenated dioxins and furans in uncontrolled combustion, and also because flame retardants were found in various environmental compartments and biota, including humans. The producers of flame retardants have responded to these concerns, and are developing more environmentally compatible products, mainly nonhalogenated alternatives.


  • Flame retardants;
  • fire safety;
  • environment;
  • phosphorus;
  • bromine;
  • halogens;
  • aluminum