Monday, August 6, 2012

Flame Retardant Alternatives Report

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a draft report on alternatives to the toxic flame retardant chemical known as decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE). Developed with public participation under the Agency's Design for the Environment (DfE) program, the comprehensive assessment profiles the environmental and human health hazards of 30 alternatives to decaBDE. DecaBDE is a common flame retardant used in electronics, vehicles, and building materials. Because it can cause adverse developmental effects, persist in the environment, and bioaccumulate in people and animals, it will be phased out of production by December 2013.

EPA's new report was intended to help manufacturers identify alternatives to decaBDE. EPA will work directly with manufacturers to investigate chemical and non-chemical alternatives to flame retardants. EPA said the draft report is the latest in a series of actions it is taking to address flame retardants made with bromine. Other actions include:
  • 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. This effort will aid the agency in focusing risk assessments on those flame retardant chemicals that pose the greatest potential concerns. EPA anticipates initiating the risk assessments on this category of chemicals in 2013.
  • 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.
  • 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.

According to EPA, alternatives to decaBDE characterized in the report are already on the market and will be used increasingly as decaBDE is phased out, but they also 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. However, the Agency points out 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. Laboratory testing and ongoing environmental monitoring is necessary to fully understand the potential for concern associated with these chemicals.

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