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EPA Identifies Substitutes for Toxic Flame Retardant Chemical

July 31, 2012

fireThe EPA has released a report identifying substitutes for decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE), a commonly used flame retardant chemical which has been shown to damage human health and the environment.

DecaBDE is 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.

The EPA 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.
 
The agency says the assement 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.

Jim Jones, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), said the agency 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," said Jones.

 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.

The latest health and environmental profiles are largely based on computer-model generated estimates. The EPA says laboratory testing and ongoing environmental monitoring is necessary to fully understand the potential for concern associated with these chemicals.

More information on the DfE Alternatives Assessment Program and the draft report: www.epa.gov/dfe

 More information on other actions on brominated flame retardants: www.epa.gov/oppt/existingchemicals/pubs/workplans.html#2013