EPA updates Alternatives Assessment for flame retardants in printed circuit boards.

Today, EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) program released an updated draft Alternatives Assessment of flame retardants in printed circuit boards (PCBs) in electronics. The report [PDF] revises a draft released in 2008; according to the agency, the new report “is being released for a second public comment period because of the large amount of information added describing the combustion testing conducted between 2008 and 2012,” and to update hazard profiles to align with the 2011 DfE Hazard Assessment Criteria [PDF]. In addition, the new draft addresses comments made on the 2008 draft.

This report is the result of a partnership convened in 2006 by EPA and members of the electronics industry and other sectors to develop information to better understand materials used to provide fire safety for PCBs in electronic equipment like computers and cell phones. The report’s purpose is to provide objective information to help electronics-makers “more efficiently factor human health and environmental considerations into decision-making when selecting flame retardants for PCB applications.”

The new draft assessment provides health and environmental information on flame retardant alternatives to tetrabromobisphenol-A (TBBPA), one of the most commonly used flame retardants for printed circuit boards. Hazard profiles vary across the three categories studied: reactive flame retardant alternatives (TBBPA, DOPO, and Fyrol PMP), reactive flame retardant resins (TBBPA-based resin and DOPO-based resin), and additive flame retardant alternatives (aluminum diethylphosphinate, aluminum hydroxide, magnesium hydroxide, melamine polyphosphate, and silicon dioxide). Human health effects for all of the assessed substances varied, with a range of toxicity endpoints. In terms of environmental fate, the reactive flame retardant alternatives and reactive flame retardant resins were all rated High or Very High for persistence, although TBBPA and DOPO were rated Moderate and Low for bioaccumulation, respectively. All five of the additive flame retardant alternatives are expected to have High persistence and Low bioaccumulation potential.

The report applies “life-cycle thinking” to explore factors affecting exposure, including occupational best practices, raw material extraction, and manufacturing. Results of combustion testing experiments simulating end-of-life disposal processes are also described.

Comments will be accepted on the draft report through February 15, 2015, under docket number EPA-HQ-OPPT-2014-0893.