Variation of flammability and smoke toxicity of upholstered furniture composites with fire retardant treatment

Lane, Jacob and Hull, T Richard orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-7970-4208 (2024) Variation of flammability and smoke toxicity of upholstered furniture composites with fire retardant treatment. Journal of Materials Science & Technology, 202 . pp. 140-151. ISSN 1005-0302

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Since the 1980s, mass market upholstered furniture sold in the United Kingdom has incorporated flame retardant chemicals to meet regulatory flammability requirements. However, UK fire deaths remain comparable with similar European countries which have no such regulations. Quantitative measures of the effect that different chemical flame retardants additives have on the flammability and smoke toxicity of UK regulatory-compliant upholstered furniture remain limited. It has been shown that most fatal fires involve upholstered furniture; most fire deaths result from toxic gas inhalation; gas phase flame retardants increase the toxicity of smoke; and the fall in fire deaths over the last 30 years is the same in countries with and without furniture flammability regulations. Moreover, the presence of certain flame retardants in furniture is a significant obstacle to any meaningful end-of-life processing.

The burning behaviour and smoke toxicity of nine upholstered furniture composites using a range of flame retardant technologies were assessed in the cone calorimeter. The total heat release (THR) varied from 46 MJ m−2 to 68 MJ m−2, the time-to-ignition (tti) from 8 s to 105 s, and peak heat release rate (pHRR) from 230 kW m−2 to 430 kW m−2. The composite filled with PET showed the longest tti while the expandable graphite fabric on the FR-foam showed the lowest pHRR. The composite with the Br-FR fabric and the FR-foam had the shortest tti, the greatest smoke, the second highest CO and the highest HCN yield. The composite with the non-FR fabric and the PET filling had the longest tti. For all the fabrics, the transition from non-FR to FR foam resulted in significant increases in the smoke, CO and HCN, except CO of Br-FR and FR-foam was slightly lower than non-FR foam.

Smoke toxicity predictions show that the use of gas phase flame retardants in both the fabrics and fillings of upholstered furniture contributes to the high proportion of smoke-related fire casualties. The work shows that the smoke toxicity of upholstered furniture can be reduced by using condensed phase FRs, such as expandable graphite, or less flammable materials, such as polyester wadding. The regulatory component tests which focus on ignitability have been shown to be ineffective at assessing the fire safety of composites representative of furniture as sold. The alternative approach of assessing heat release and smoke toxicity, as described here, would improve the fire safety of furniture while reducing reliance on additive flame retardants acting in the gas phase.

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