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Industry Drops Flame Retardant

Toxic Substances: Producers of decabde will shift to green alternatives

by Glenn Hess
January 4, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 1

Following negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency, three companies have agreed to phase out production and sale of the 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, a major supplier to the U.S. market, 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 phaseout plans, the companies insist that decaBDE is safe and effective but say they will shift production to green alternatives.

DecaBDE is a polybrominated diphenyl ether, a class of flame-retardant chemicals that has been under regulatory scrutiny for its 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.”

Under the companies’ agreement with EPA, the phaseout will focus initially on consumer segments such as electronics and home furnishings, followed by transportation and industrial uses. Certain transportation and military uses, which might need more time to qualify suitable substitutes, have up to 12 additional months to transition to alternative 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.

“We welcome the chance to help transition our customers to other alternatives, including new products we are piloting and plan to introduce in 2010,” notes Craig A. Rogerson, Chemtura’s chairman and president.



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