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December 18, 2009

Industry To Phase Out decaBDE

Flame Retardants: Production will shift to greener alternatives

Glenn Hess

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Following negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency, three companies have agreed to phase out production and sale of the brominated flame retardant decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE) for most uses within three years.

Albemarle and Chemtura, which produce decaBDE in the U.S., and Israel's ICL Industrial Products (IP), the largest U.S. importer of the chemical, say they will end sales for all remaining "essential uses" by the end of 2013.

DecaBDE, one of the world's most widely used flame retardants, has been the focus of controversy over the past several years. In letters to EPA describing their phase out plans, the companies insist that decaBDE is safe and effective, but say they will shift production to greener alternatives.

DecaBDE is a polybrominated diphenyl ether, a class of flame retardant chemicals that have been under regulatory scrutiny for their potential health risks.

"Though decaBDE has been used as a flame retardant for years, EPA has long been concerned about its impact on human health and the environment," says Steve Owens, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides & Toxic Substances. "Studies have shown that decaBDE persists in the environment, potentially causes cancer and may impact brain function."

The flame retardant also can degrade to more toxic chemicals that are frequently found in the environment and are hazardous to wildlife, Owens adds.

Under the companies' agreement with EPA, the phase-out will focus initially on consumer segments such as electronics and home furnishings, followed by transportation and industrial uses. Certain transportation and military uses, which may need more time to qualify suitable substitutes, have up to 12 additional months to transition to alternate flame retardants.

"While hundreds of science-based and peer-reviewed studies have shown decaBDE to be safe in use and one of the most efficacious flame retardants in the world, Albemarle is committed to delivering safe and effective products with increasingly smaller environmental footprints," says Brian Carter, global business director of Albemarle's flame retardant group. 

In addition to existing substitutes for decaBDE, Albemarle has developed GreenArmor, a polymer-based flame retardant technology which is a recyclable and an eco-friendly alternative, says Tony Parnell, vice president of the company's polymer solutions division.

The phase out will allow Chemtura to continue its "longstanding efforts to protect people and property from the hazards of fire in a sustainable way," says Craig Rogerson, the company's chairman and president. "We welcome the chance to help transition our customers to other alternatives, including new products we are piloting and plan to introduce in 2010."

Ilan Elkan, vice president of ICL-IP's flame retardant business unit, says the company expects to launch new flame retardant products over the next two-to-three years to replace decaBDE in its traditional applications, and also plans to launch "other high-value 'green' products."

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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