From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published July 31, 2012 11:44 AM

EPA and Flame Retardants

Decabromodiphenyl ether is not much of a household word. It has been used in some flame retardants but its environmental effects are far from clear. In its quest to identify possible substitutes for a toxic flame retardant chemical known as decabromodiphenyl ether, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a draft report on potential alternatives. This comprehensive assessment, developed with public participation under EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) program, profiles the environmental and human health hazards on 30 alternatives to decaBDE, which will be phased out of production by December 2013.

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An important scientific issue is whether decaBDE debrominates in the environment to PBDE congeners with fewer bromine atoms, since such PBDE congeners may be more toxic than decaBDE itself. Debromination may be "biotic" (caused by biological means) or "abiotic" (caused by nonbiological means). In September 2004 an Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) report asserted that "DecaBDE seems to be largely resistant to environmental degradation.

As of mid-2007 two states had instituted measures to phase out decaBDE. In April 2007 the state of Washington passed a law banning the manufacture, sale, and use of decaBDE in mattresses as of 2008; the ban "could be extended to TVs, computers and upholstered residential furniture in 2011 provided an alternative flame retardant is approved." In June 2007 the state of Maine passed a law "ban[ning] the use of deca-BDE in mattresses and furniture on January 1, 2008 and phas[ing] out its use in televisions and other plastic-cased electronics by January 1, 2010."

On December 17, 2009, as the result of negotiations with EPA, the two U.S. producers of decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE), Albemarle Corporation and Chemtura Corporation, and the largest U.S. importer, ICL Industrial Products, Inc., announced commitments to phase out voluntarily decaBDE in the United States

DecaBDE is a common flame retardant used in electronics, vehicles, and building materials. It can cause adverse developmental effects, can persist in the environment and can bioaccumulate in people and animals. This technical assessment can help manufacturers identify alternatives to decaBDE.

"EPA is using all of its tools to reduce the use of hazardous flame retardant chemicals like decaBDE and identify safer, functional substitutes to protect people’s health and the environment," said Jim Jones, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP). "Virtually everyone agrees that EPA needs updated authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to more effectively assess and regulate potentially harmful chemicals like flame retardants. As EPA continues to stress the need for comprehensive legislative reform to TSCA, we are also targeting actions on a broader group of flame retardants to reduce human and environmental risks."

On June 1, 2012, EPA released a TSCA work plan of 18 chemicals which the agency intends to review and use to develop risk assessments in 2013 and 2014, including three flame retardant chemicals. EPA is currently developing a strategy, scheduled for completion by the end of this year that will address these three and a broader set of flame retardant chemicals.

On April 2, 2012, EPA proposed actions under TSCA that will require manufacturers, importers, and processors of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants to submit information to the agency for review before initiating any new uses of PBDEs after Dec 31, 2013. Those who continue to manufacture, import, or process after December 31, 2013, would be subject to a testing requirement under TSCA. EPA is accepting comments on this proposal until July 31, 2012.

In 2009, EPA developed action plans on PBDEs (including pentaBDE, octaBDE, and decaBDE) and hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) that summarized available hazard, exposure and use information; outlined potential risks; and identified the specific steps the agency is pursuing under the TSCA. The alternatives analysis for decaBDE was included in the action plan.

The alternatives to decaBDE characterized in the report are already on the market and will be used increasingly as decaBDE is phased out. The alternatives have differing hazard characteristics and are associated with trade-offs. For example, some alternatives that appear to have a relatively positive human health profile may be more persistent in the environment. Some alternatives appear to be less toxic than decaBDE. Preliminary data suggests that these flame retardants may have a lower potential for bioaccumulation in people and the environment. It is important to understand that these health and environmental profiles are largely based on computer-model generated estimates, and that the models are limited in their ability to predict concern.

For further information see Fire Retardant.

Fire image via Wikipedia.

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