Chemical makers and environmental advocates are praising a move last week by governments from around the world to end production and use of the flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD). Published studies show that HBCD, which has been widely used in polystyrene foam insulation for buildings, is toxic to aquatic organisms, can disrupt thyroid hormone in laboratory animals, and persists in the environment.
The Bromine Science & Environmental Forum, a group of four chemical firms that make bromine-containing flame retardants, says it welcomes the HBCD phaseout, which governments adopted at a United Nations meeting in Geneva. The forum says its members—Albemarle, ICL Industrial Products, Chemtura, and Tosoh—“are committed to substituting HBCD with sustainable alternatives.” Chemical firms have been developing and commercializing new flame retardants as alternatives to HBCD for polystyrene foam insulation for some time (C&EN, Oct. 29, 2012, page 39).
The International POPs Elimination Network, a coalition of advocacy groups seeking eradication of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), also praised the move to ban HBCD, saying it will protect people from harmful health effects.
At the Geneva meeting, which ended on May 10, government negotiators added HBCD to a list of 22 other substances targeted for global elimination under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Other chemicals controlled by this treaty include polychlorinated biphenyls and a number of pesticides.
Parties to the treaty gave HBCD a reprieve before the global ban takes effect. Under the agreement, HBCD can continue to be used in expanded or extruded polystyrene insulation for buildings until 2019, a UN spokesman tells C&EN. The industry forum says this exemption “will provide downstream users with the time that they need to ensure a smooth transition to alternatives.”
Treaty members also created labeling requirements for new building insulation products that contain HBCD, says Joseph DiGangi, senior science adviser for the network of advocacy groups. Labels will provide information to purchasers of insulation products and will also help ensure proper disposal of HBCD-containing materials when buildings are renovated or torn down, he says.