EPA Identifies Substitutes for Toxic Flame Retardant Chemical

In its quest to identify possible substitutes for a toxic flame retardant chemical known as decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a draft report on 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.

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. In addition, EPA will continue to work with manufacturers to investigate both chemical and non-chemical alternatives for flame retardants.

“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."

Today’s draft report is the latest in a series of actions the agency is taking to address flame retardants made with bromine. Other actions include:

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. 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.

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. Laboratory testing and ongoing environmental monitoring is necessary to fully understand the potential for concern associated with these chemicals.

EPA’s Design for the Environment Alternatives Assessment Program helps industries choose safer chemicals and offers a basis for informed decision-making by providing a detailed comparison of the potential public health and environmental impacts of chemical alternatives. Throughout the partnership, stakeholders, including chemical suppliers, product manufacturers, and non-government organizations have provided valuable information to support the development of these draft reports. EPA is seeking stakeholder and public input on this draft report for 60 days.


 

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