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EPA Touts Flame-Retardant Options

Monday, June 16, 2014

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Federal regulators have identified safer alternatives to flame-retardant chemicals used in building insulation and products containing flexible polyurethane foam.

Two Environmental Protection Agency risk assessments, announced Thursday (June 12), are designed to help manufacturers make decisions regarding the use of chemicals.

An EPA official called the new options "great news for consumers and industry.”

Flame-retardant chemicals, such as hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) and pentabromodiphenyl ether (pentaBDE), raise environmental and health concerns, including potential reproductive, developmental and neurological effects, the agency said.

house on fire

Flame retardants are used in building materials "to raise ignition temperatures and to reduce the rate of burning, flame spread, and smoke, in turn potentially allowing building occupants more time to escape a life-threatening fire," according to the EPA.

The chemicals can be persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic to aquatic organisms, according to the EPA.

“EPA’s findings for safer alternatives is great news for consumers and industry,” said Jim Jones, EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

“We will now have safer alternatives for use in our products from furniture to car seats to building insulation.” 

Alternative for Building Insulation

The EPA’s 230-page final report on flame-retardant alternatives for HBCD, which is commonly used in polystyrene building insulation to meet fire-safety standards, identifies butadiene styrene brominated copolymer as the most viable and safest alternative.

“Due to its large size, lack of low molecular weight components, and un-reactive functional groups, the human health and ecotoxicity hazard for this polymer are measured or predicted to be low,” according to the report. identifying the alternative chemical.

building insulation
EPA Final Report

The report allows stakeholders interested in chemical substitution to identify functional substitutes for HBCD in expanded and extruded polystyrene foam, EPA says.

Butadiene styrene brominated copolymer is also currently in commercial production in the U.S., the EPA reported.

However, the agency noted that the alternative chemical is “inherently persistent and its long-term behavior in the environment is not currently known.”

Updated Draft for Consumer Products

The EPA has also released an updated draft report on alternatives to the flame retardant pentabromodiphenyl ether (pentaBDE).

In the 840-page report, the agency has identified oligomeric phosphonate polyol as a safer alternative to pentaBDE.

The pentaBDE report will help industry choose safer alternatives to meet product flammability standards for consumer products containing flexible polyurethane foam, such as car seats and upholstered furniture, according to the EPA.

draft report
EPA Draft Report

Safer alternatives exist to meet product flammability standards for consumer products containing flexible polyurethane foam, such as car seats and upholstered furniture, according to the EPA.

The draft report is available for public review and comment until Aug. 11.

Assessment Program

Both assessments are part of a larger EPA strategy outlined in March 2013 for assessing more than 20 flame-retardant chemicals to identify potential concerns and consider action for any identified risks.

The alternatives in the reports were further identified through EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) Alternatives Assessment Program

That program “helps industries choose safer chemicals and offers a basis for informed decision-making by providing a detailed comparison of the potential public health and environmental impacts of chemical alternatives,” the agency said.

Stakeholders, including chemical suppliers, product manufacturers, and non-government organizations have provided valuable information to support the development of the draft and final reports, the EPA noted.


Tagged categories: Building materials; Coating chemistry; Construction chemicals; EPA; Flame-retardant coatings; Government; Health and safety; Insulation

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