EPA identifies safer alternatives for flame retardants.

Yesterday, EPA’s Design for Environment (DfE) program released two reports on flame retardants and their safer alternatives. One report is a draft update of a 2005 Alternatives Assessment on the flame retardant pentabromodiphenyl ether (pentaBDE) in flexible polyurethane foam; the other is a final Alternatives Assessment on Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), a brominated flame retardant used in polystyrene building insulation. Both chemicals pose risks to human health and the environment, including “potential reproductive, developmental, and neurological effects and can be persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to aquatic organisms.”

PentaBDE has already been phased out of use in the U.S.; in 2004, industry voluntarily agreed to cease production and EPA issued a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) aimed at ending the chemical’s domestic manufacture. EPA proposed another SNUR in 2012 to address imports of pentaBDE-containing furniture or other articles. EPA identified oligomeric phosphonate polyol as a safer alternative to pentaBDE. PentaBDE has also been subject to flammability standards recently proposed and finalized by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the state of California, respectively. EPA’s updated alternatives assessment is “[complementary to] the CPSC and California actions by providing important information for informed selection of flame retardants in the manufacture of home and office furniture, as well as the many home products not covered by these standards.” The draft update provides a hazard assessment for flame retardant chemicals used in upholstered consumer products containing polyurethane foam, including updated health and environmental profiles previously profiled in 2005 and new products in the category.

EPA issued this report on HBCD as part of the agency’s action plan for HBCD under the Existing Chemicals Management Plan. Although HBCD is also used as a flame retardant in textile back coatings and high-impact polystyrene in electronics housings, the Alternatives Assessment only addresses its use in expanded polystyrene (EPS) and extruded polystyrene (XPS) foam insulation produced for the building and construction industry for fire safety. Butadiene styrene brominated copolymer was identified as a safer alternative to HBCD based on hazard considerations, with lower human health, ecotoxicity, and exposure potentials, although it is also inherently persistent due to its molecule size. Butadiene styrene brominated copolymer is regulated by its own SNUR and is commercially available from chemical suppliers, according to EPA.