Industry Agrees to Phase Out DecaBDE Flame Retardant
Following negotiations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the two U.S. producers as well as the primary exporter to the U.S. of decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE) have agreed to a three-year phaseout of the chemical.
DecaBDE is a brominated flame retardant that, along with other polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), has long been targeted by environmental and health advocates (see "Flame Retardants Under Fire" in EBN June 2004).
Two chemicals in the PBDE family, the penta- and octa- forms, were eliminated earlier in the decade, but decaBDE has remained in widespread use especially in hard (durable) plastics for consumer electronics and office equipment, upholstery textiles, drapery backings, and plastic pallets. Annual North American consumption was about 50 million pounds (23 million kg) in 2001, according to industry sources, though usage has dropped as much as 50% since then.
"Though decaBDE has been used as a flame retardant for years," said Steve Owens, the EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, "the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has long been concerned about its impact on human health and the environment." There is further concern that decaBDE can degrade into the more hazardous forms pentaBDE and octaBDE.
The phaseout was announced on December 17, 2009, by EPA, along with the Louisiana company Albemarle, the Connecticut company Chemtura (previously Great Lakes Chemical Company), and the Israeli company ICL Industrial Products and its subsidiary Dead Sea Bromine Company. According to Dave Clary, vice president and chief sustainability officer for Albemarle, the manufacturers came to EPA proposing the voluntary phaseout. "It was an industry initiative," he said. While Albemarle and the other manufacturers continue to argue that decaBDE (also called decabrom) is safe, "we decided to spend our efforts in more positive ways developing new products, rather than spend them defending decabrom," Clary told EBN.
Photo shows damage from a candle-ignited fire that destroyed a campus fraternity house in Amherst, Massachusetts—brominated flame retardants probably prevented this television from fully igniting.