Polyester is the terminal product in a chain of very reactive and toxic precursors. Most are carcinogens; all are poisonous. And even if none of these chemicals remain entrapped in the final polyester structure (I don’t know enough chemistry to figure that one out – can anybody help?), the manufacturing process requires workers and our environment to be exposed to some or all of these toxic precursors. ( To see our blog post about polyester, click here ). So I’m just not a fan of synthetics – even polyester. Just so you know.
To make an intrinsically flame retardant polyester, the most common method is to add brominated flame retardants (BFR’s) to the polymer during the melt phase. This means the chemicals are “trapped” in the polymer. Included in this huge class of BFR’s is:
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE’s): besides PBDE, the group includes DecaBDE, OctaBDE and PentaBDE (neither Octa nor Penta is manufactured anymore)
- Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) – also not manufactured anymore
- Brominated cyclohydrocarbons
Brominated flame retardants are persistent, accumulate in the food chain, and toxic to both humans and the environment and are suspected of causing neurobehavioral effects, endocrine disruption, cancer and other degenerative diseases.
So now you have a polyester fabric which is made from toxic monomers, which in turn come from crude oil, a precious non-renewable resource. It becomes “intrinsically flame retarded” by having PBDE’s mixed into the polymer at the melt stage. Personally, I wouldn’t want to live with that mixture. Think about it: It’s generally assumed that PBDE’s in plastics (of all kinds) volatilize – but even if they didn’t, each time you sit on your sofa microscopic particles of the fabric are abraded and fall into the dust in your homes, where you can breathe them in.
Many manufacturers advertise the use of “intrinsically flame retardant” polyester fabrics on their sofas. But why would you need an intrinsically flame retarded fabric on a sofa in your home? There is no law that says the fabric in a residential setting must have flame retardants (unlike the laws that exist to cover public areas, like offices, airports, hotels, etc.) Can’t you use a fabric without flame retardants?