US offers flame retardant alternatives, suggests uses

24 September 2013 19:45  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The US on Tuesday identified possible alternatives for a widely used flame retardant chemical and suggested that manufacturers consider using them in the production of building insulation materials.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said in a draft report that it has identified alternatives to the flame retardant chemical hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), which the agency said is used in polystyrene building insulation but has “persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic characteristics”.

EPA said that the draft report detailing potential alternatives to HBCD “can help manufacturers identify safer alternatives to the use of HBCD in polystyrene building insulation”.

Jim Jones, EPA’s assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention, said that the report will allow “companies who choose to move away from HBCD to do so with confidence that the potential for unintended consequences is minimised”.

The draft report, titled “The Design for the Environment Alternatives Assessment”, identifies “two viable chemical alternatives for use in polystyrene building insulation”, EPA said.

One of those alternatives, said the agency, is a butadiene styrene brominated copolymer.  That substance, the report says, “is anticipated to be safer than HBCD and is currently in commercial production in the US”.

The draft report is part of a broader effort that EPA launched in March this year to identify risks associated with 23 substances, including 20 flame retardant chemicals.

“If EPA identifies potential risks, the agency will evaluate and pursue appropriate risk reduction actions,” Jones said.

An EPA spokeswoman said it was too early to say whether “appropriate risk reduction actions” might include agency action to ban or severely restrict the use of any of the 20 flame retardants undergoing risk assessment.

The spokeswoman said, however, that the draft report issued on Tuesday “is for information purposes only” and was not expected to lead to regulatory action.

The draft report is open for public comment until 22 November this year, she said, and EPA then will evaluate those observations or suggestions before issuing a final alternatives assessment report. She could not say when the final report might be issued, although it is not likely before 2014 at the earliest.

EPA said it was taking steps to address public concern about the safety of flame retardant chemicals, rather than wait to take action under hoped-for modernisation of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Both chemical producers and the environmental community agree that TSCA, the principal US statute for control of chemicals in commerce, is long past due for an overhaul.

However, efforts in Congress to come up with a comprehensive legislative vehicle to modernise TSCA in a way that satisfies both camps has proven difficult. Among other issues, flame retardants have emerged as a major point of contention in TSCA modernisation discussions.

A compromise TSCA modernisation bill is pending in the US Senate, but there has been no movement on that measure and top Senate leaders have said they want to start over on the issue.

Paul Hodges studies key influences shaping the chemical industry in Chemicals and the Economy


By: Joe Kamalick
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