Smarter Living: Chemical Index

Often referred to simply as "Tris," the flame retardants--TDCP (Tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate) and TCEP (Tris (2-chloroethyl) phosphate)--are used in baby products, furniture and many other household items. Studies link TDCP and TCEP to cancer and both have been found to harm the liver, kidney, brain and testes.

Health Concerns

In animal studies, TDCP has been associated with cancer and other harm to the liver, kidney, brain and testes. The Consumer Products Safety Commission classifies TDCP as a probable human carcinogen. TCEP, a similarly structured chemical, also causes cancer, neurological and reproductive harm in laboratory animals.

Children's Health: Studies have shown that young children are often the group most highly exposed to these phosphate ester flame retardants. Researchers estimate that children can ingest up to ten times as much of these chemicals as adults do because of their tendency to put their hands and other objects into their mouths, and because they spend time close to the ground.

Where They are Found

  • TDCP is the main flame retardant used in automotive foam cushioning and the second most widely used flame retardant in furniture foam.
  • TDCP was used in children’s sleepwear until being banned in 1977 – however, it’s still used in other baby gear including strollers, nursing pillows and rocking chair foam.
  • TCEP is also used in furniture foam as well as PVC vinyl, home electronics (including televisions and computers), adhesives, upholstery, carpet backings, rubber, plastics, paints and varnishes.
  • Both chemicals contaminate household dust and drinking water. One study in the Boston, MA area detected TDCP in more than 96 percent of the samples collected.
  • In a 2002 study of water samples from 139 streams across the country, TCEP was one of the most frequently detected contaminants.

Stay Safe

  • Fire safety starts with good fire prevention practices, not toxic chemicals. Sprinklers, smoke detectors and strongly enforced building codes are all proven to reduce fire-related deaths. A strong first line of defense can help avoid the unnecessary use of harmful chemicals.
  • Replace furniture with ripped or torn upholstery that exposes the foam interior.
  • Avoid furniture that says it meets the CA flame retardant standard TB 117. This is an antiquated standard that requires excessive amounts of flame retardant chemicals to be added to furniture foam.
  • Buy furniture and textiles made from natural fibers like wool, jute or cotton--these material are more naturally flame-retardant that synthetic fibers and require fewer chemical additives to meet flammability standards.
  • Household dust can contain high levels of flame retardant chemicals. Mop your floors, dust frequently with a damp cloth, and use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
  • Before buying electronics, check with the manufacturer to see if they have pledged to phase out the use of chlorinated flame retardants.

Take Action

Ask your Senators and Representative to support reforms to our country’s outdated policy on toxic chemicals and prevent cancer-causing flame retardants from entering the market. To learn more click here.

Learn More

NRDC's factsheet on TDCP and TCEP.

NRDC Protecting People from Unsafe Chemicals

Kolpin et al. (2002). Pharmaceuticals, hormones, and other organic wastewater contaminants in US streams, 1999-2000: A national reconnaissance. Environ Sci Technol 36:1202-1211.

Marklund, A., B. Andersson, et al. (2005). "Organophosphorus flame retardants and plasticizers in air from various indoor environments." J Environ Monit 7(8): 814-9.

Marklund, A., B. Andersson, et al. (2003). "Screening of organophosphorus compounds and their distribution in various indoor environments." Chemosphere 53(9): 1137-46.

National Toxicology Program, Toxicology and Carcinogenesis Studies of Tris(2-chloroethyl) Phosphate (CAS No. 115-96-8) in F344/N Rats and B6C3F1 Mice (Gavage Studies). Natl Toxicol Program Tech Rep Ser. 1991 May;391:1-233.

Stapleton, H. M., S. Klosterhaus, et al.(2009). "Detection of Organophosphate Flame Retardants in Furniture Foam and U.S. House Dust." Environmental Science & Technology. Article ASAP.Published on-line August 13, 2009.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Comission (2006). CPSC Staff Preliminary Risk Assessment of Flame Retardant (FR) Chemicals in Upholstered Furniture Foam. December 21, 2006.

World Health Organization. Flame Retardants: Tris (chloropropyl) phosphate and tris(2 chloroethyl) phosphate; Geneva, 1998; Environmental Health Criteria 209.

last revised 12/27/2011

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