A Louisiana-based company claims to have developed a fire retardant formula that cannot be absorbed through the skin.

Albemarle Corp.’s polymeric “Green Armor” is purposely formulated to have a large molecular structure. “It doesn’t pass through a biological membrane,” says Ray Dawson, a chemist and Albermarle’s global director-product advocacy.

This has significant implications for the auto industry, because there is growing concern about the toxicity of materials used in vehicle interiors. Public health advocates such as the Michigan-based Ecology Center publishes annual vehicle ratings based on chemical exposure.

With regard to fire retardants, which are used in seating, headliners and carpet, Dawson notes women’s health research that has discovered the chemicals in breast milk.

“Even though the levels are very small, they are detected,” he tells Ward’s. “And this raises questions.”

Green Armor is in the “market development stage,” Dawson says, adding Albemarle has made presentations to suppliers and auto makers.

“The motor industry, in common with many other industries, is increasingly conscious of green engineering and green chemistry,” he says. “Within that framework, we believe that (Green Armor) – as it is developed and incorporated in automotive components – will move the industry in the right direction.”

At the same time, Albemarle is confident its new product also will provide superior fire safety.

In addition to interior fabrics, Dawson expects Green Armor may find its way into electrical connectors.

Cost, he concedes, will be higher, initially.

“It’s fair to say that certainly, in the early days, there will be some increase in cost,” Dawson says. “We don’t believe that increase will be disproportionate.”

But public-health advocates such as Ecology Center Research Director Jeff Gearhart likely would argue increased cost would be money well spent.

“We went from having almost no plastic in vehicles in the ’50s and ’60s, to now 10%-15% of (vehicle interiors) being made of synthetic materials,” Gearhart says. And these materials demand flame retardants.

Flame retardants are covered under U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 302.

emayne@wardsauto.com