Identification & Quantitation of Flame Retardants

Each and every day we are surrounded by products that contain flame retardants. Nearly all industries must consider flame retardants in their formulations whether they are required for consumer safety purposes or to protect the integrity of the product--and therefore the financial interests of the manufacturer. Flame retardants are a group of chemicals added to materials or products to prevent or slow the spread of fire. Flame retardants are usually grafted into the final polymer, part of an additives package, or a coating on a product. Finished products ranging from ceiling tiles to sofas, children’s toys to circuit boards all contain flame retardants. Flame retardants have an important role within the electronics, textile, furniture, clothing, construction, and children’s toy industries.

Even when a manufacturer believes they have a winning system it must be verified. For example, it is possible that incorporating a flame retardant as part of an additives package will disrupt the performance of other additives, rendering them ineffective. The correct balance must be found which provides the benefits of the flame retardant without disrupting other performance characteristics or posing safety risks due to toxicity.

  • Analysis of Flame Retardants

    Flame retardant analysis is particularly challenging to an analytical laboratory.  The variety of materials that are used for flame retardant additives can be daunting if one is attempting to reverse engineer a completely unknown formulation. Here are just a few of the categories:

    • Organophosphorus
    • Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers
    • Polybrominated Biphenyls
    • Antimony Oxides
    • Halogenated Polymers and Monomers
    • Nitrogen Generating Compounds
    • Aluminum Compounds
    • Boron Compounds

    There are several more categories and each have multiple subcategories.


  • Analytical Approach & Sample Considerations

    We break down the complexity of the testing by staging the analysis.

    • Stage 1 – Determine the elemental composition and thermal decomposition temperature.  This allows us to narrow down the potential categories and approach the next step of testing in a focused manner.

    • Stage 2 – Identification of specific compounds based on stage 1 results.

    • Stage 3 – Quantitation of flame retardants using calibration standards of the compounds identified in stage 2.

    At least 10 grams of material is required.  However the amount can vary depending on the concentration of the compounds and desired detection limit.

  • Experience

    This general outline of test methods has been developed over many years of testing experience.  Often testing will deviate from the above outline based on what is found in each stage of testing.  It should also be noted that full quantitation may not be possible for some flame retardants due to their nature (melamine based polymers for example).  However, it should be possible to provide quantitative or semiquantitative results for most additives.