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NIST Developing Safer Flame Retardant

by Andrea Widener
June 9, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 23

By combining clay, crustacean shells, and DNA from herring sperm, researchers at the National Institute of Standards & Technology have created a flame retardant that they say is more environmentally friendly than many commercial flame-retardant chemicals. The new product is a coating that reduced the average rate of heat released from polyurethane foam furniture padding by 77% compared with foam with no flame retardant, according to a published study (Green Mater. 2014, DOI: 10.1680/gmat.14.00003). NIST scientists created it by depositing thin layers of the clay montmorillonite; the fiber chitosan, which is derived from crustacean shells; and DNA from herring sperm, which bubbles when heated, protecting the foam material underneath it. Researchers are experimenting to identify a combination that prevents fires best but does not add excessive weight to furniture. The search for alternatives to current flame retardants has accelerated in recent years after some of these substances were yanked from the market because of concerns about possible health and environmental effects. In addition, EPA is currently scrutinizing 20 flame retardants—including brominated phthalates, chlorinated phosphate esters, and cyclic aliphatic bromides—to determine if they are safe.


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