Friday, August 20, 2010

HBCD - A Flame Retardant by Any Other Name

As mentioned previously, EPA has issued three new "action plans" for chemicals that they believe need greater attention.  One of these is Hexabromocyclododecane, or thankfully, simply HBCD.  So what is the big deal with HBCD?  Well, according to EPA, HBCD is "used as a flame retardant in expanded polystyrene foam in the building and construction industry, as well as consumer products."  That means it gets into a lot of houses, or at least into the foam insulation used in a lot of houses and other buildings.

EPA also says that HBCD is "persistent, bioaccumulative and can undergo long-range atmospheric transport." These have become big qualifiers for chemical concern.  If something is persistent it means it can stay in the environment for a very long time.  And if it is bioaccumulative it means all that chemical in the environment could possibly build up in the bodies of plants and/or animals, then the animals that eat those plants or animals, then the animals that eat those animals, etc.  But the "long-range atmospheric transport" is an added concern.  That means that the chemical could persist and bioaccumulate not only near where it is released into the environment, but in remote locations like the Arctic. 

Add in EPA's contention that "studies show HBCD is highly toxic to aquatic organisms" and that "health concerns include potential reproductive, developmental and neurological effects in humans," and you have the reason why they feel they need a plan of action.

But as I've discussed in the past, these actions are planned for the future, or in some cases, just the consideration of taking action is planned for the future.  Given the old adage that a plan is obsolete as soon as it is printed, the actual actions taken by EPA and industry could be much different when they actually take place.  But for now, EPA's plan to deal with HBCD is to:

  • Consider initiating TSCA §5(b)(4) Concern List rulemaking on HBCD. Proposed rule in late 2011.
  • Initiate TSCA §5(a)(2) Significant New Use Rule to designate HBCD use in consumer textiles as a flame retardant as a significant new use.
  • Consider initiating rulemaking under TSCA §6(a) to regulate HBCD.
  • Initiate rulemaking to add HBCD to the Toxics Release Inventory. Action expected in late 2011.
  • Conduct a Design for the Environment and Green Chemistry alternatives assessment of HBCD.


Anonymous said...

Good work EPA for your continued efforts to make our planet a safe environment for all living things. These efforts align with the chemical industry’s commitment to sustainability in products and to consumer safety. Today, the chemical industry spends millions of dollars on green chemistry R&D to create and introduce new eco-friendly solutions for many business sectors.

For example, the flame retardants that are critical ingredients in many consumer electronic products, as well as the interiors of automobiles and airplanes, save lives and protect property from fires. These flame retardants are now available as eco-friendly alternatives to products from the past. Trial testing by industry leaders are currently underway and many of these new green alternatives will be introduced to the market later this year.

High-efficiency polystyrene insulation is very important to everyone’s efforts to reduce energy consumption and global warming, but this insulation requires highly effective flame retardants to maintain fire safety. The chemical industry has been working to develop a new generation of flame retardants that does not present the same concerns as HBCD. The new products are based on polymers (like a plastic) with larger molecules, which impede their absorption by humans, animals and plants.

The Dake Page said...

Thanks for the additional information regarding industry's efforts to come up with alternatives. I would like to hear more about the polymer-based flame retardants.