EPA publishes Alternatives Assessments for DecaBDE and BPA in thermal paper.

EPA has released final Alternatives Assessment Reports for DecaBDE and bisphenol A (BPA) in thermal paper. The assessments were developed under the agency’s Design for Environment (DfE) program to characterize the environmental and human health hazards for the substances and their alternatives, and are intended to inform substitution decisions.

DecaBDE is a flame retardant belonging to the class of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and has been used in a wide range of products from textiles to building materials. EPA has been concerned that DecaBDE and related chemicals may be persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to humans and the environment. The Alternatives Assessment released yesterday is part of the agency’s action plan for PBDEs, which encourages industry to voluntarily phase out the manufacture and import of these chemicals. The Alternatives Assessment Report [PDF] profiles 29 alternative flame retardants with varying hazard profiles, including substances that have been use for decades as well as others that are relatively new to the market.

BPA is widely used as a developer in thermal paper, as in the case of cash register receipts. The chemical is common in manufacturing polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins; thermal paper represents a smaller percentage of overall BPA use, but EPA is concerned that “use of BPA in thermal paper could increase cumulative human exposures and direct and indirect environmental releases of BPA.” The Alternatives Assessment Report, also part of an EPA action plan, profiles 19 potential chemical alternatives evaluated for human health effects, ecotoxicity, and environmental fate. The report did not identify a clearly safer alternative to BPA, as “most alternatives have Moderate or High hazard designations for human health or aquatic toxicity endpoints.”

BPA in thermal paper has recently come under increased scrutiny in Europe as well. Last week, France submitted a dossier to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) proposing to restrict the use of the substance; in August, France proposed reclassifying BPA from a category 2 reprotoxicant to category 1B.