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TCEP, Tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate, is a current use flame-retardant commonly found in furniture containing polyurethane foam. It is also used as a flame retardant in many other applications such as electronics, textiles, and carpet (#1). It has been listed on California’s list of carcinogens since 1992 and New York has recently banned its use in products intended for children under three years of age because of evidence of adverse health effects (#3, #4).

Chemical Description

TCEP is a pale yellow liquid with a slight odor (#5).


TCEP is added to polyurethane foams found in furniture, carpet backing, flame-resistant paint, resins, electronics, textiles and some types of particle board (#4, #6).

History and Regulation

TCEP was added to the California list of carcinogens in 1992 (#3). In 2010, the European Union listed TCEP as a Substance of Very High Concern due its reproductive toxicity and potential to impair fertility (#1). Most recently, New York has passed a law that will ban the use of TCEP in products intended for children under the age of three due to the weight of evidence that suggests TCEP causes adverse health effects (#3).

Routes of Exposure and Metabolism

The flame-retardant TCEP is not an integral component of foam in furniture and can escape into the air over time. Once in the air, TCEP can be inhaled or attach to house dust and eventually settle on food or toys. Dust is frequently ingested accidently, especially by young children who put their hands and toys in their mouths more often than adults. TCEP has been found in indoor air and dust in many settings including homes, offices, libraries, and hospitals (#2, #7, #8, #9).

Human Health Effects

Although there is little direct information on the health effects of TCEP, there are several animal studies that suggest exposure may cause adverse impacts. In a study examining reproductive health in mice, TCEP impaired the sperm quality of males, and exposed mating mice had fewer pups and fewer litters (#10). Another study found that exposure to TCEP increased tumors in the kidneys, and brain damage was observed (#11). Brain damage was observed in another experiment. The researchers also found that the exposed rats had learning impairments as well (#12).


1. European Chemicals Agency. 2009. Support Document for Identification of Tris(2-chloroethyl)phosphate as a Substance of Very High Concern because of its CMR Properties. Accessed Oct 1, 2011.

2. Stapleton HM, Klosterhaus S, Keller A, Ferguson PL, van Bergen S, Cooper E, Webster TF, Blum A. 2011. Identification of flame retardants in polyurethane foam collected from baby products. Environmental Science and Technology, 45(12), 5323-5331.

3. Miller, KL. 2011. New York TCEP (Tris) Law. OLR Research Report. Accessed Dec 23, 2011

4. California Environmental Protection Agency. 2011. Chemicals Known to the State to Cause Cancer or Reproductive Toxicity. OEHHA. Accessed Oct 1, 2011.

5. International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) (1998) Flame Retardants: Tris(chloropropy1) Phosphate and Tris(2-chloroethyl) Phosphate. Environmental Health Criteria No. 209. World Health Organization, Geneva.

6. United States National Toxicology Program. 1991. Toxicology and Carcinogenesis Studies of Tris(2-chloroethyl)phosphate (CAS No. 115-96-8) in F344/N Rats and B6C3F1 Mice (Gavage Studies)(Technical Report Series No. 391; NIH Publication No. 91-2846). United States Department of Health and Human Services.

7. Marklund A, Andersson B, Haglund P. 2005. Organophosphorus flame retardants and plasticizers in air from various indoor environments. Journal of Environmental Monitoring. 7:814-819.

8. Makinen MSE, Makinen MRA, Koistinen JTB, Pasanen A, Pasanen PO, Kalliokoski PJ, Korpi AM. 2008. Respiratory and dermal exposure to organophosphorus flame retardants and tetrabromobisphenol A at five work environments. Environmental Science and Technology. 43: 941-947.

9. Marklund A, Andersson B, Haglund P. 2003. Screening of organophosphorus compounds and their distribution in various indoor environments. Chemosphere, 53: 1137-1146.

10. Reproductive toxicology. 1997. Tris(2-chloroethyl)phosphate. Environmental Health Perspectives (105) Suppl 1:365-6.

11. Matthews HB, Eustis SL, Haseman J. 1993. Toxicity and Carcinogenicity of Chronic Exposure to Tris(2-chloroethyl)phosphate. Fundamental and Applied Toxicology (20):477-485.

12. Tilson HA, Versonesi B, McLamb RL. 1990. Acute Exposure to Tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate Produces Hippocampal Neuronal Loss and Impairs Learning in Rats. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology (106): 452-269.

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