What is a flame retardants and what are polybrominated phenylethers?
A flame retardant is a chemical substance
which is applied to a material (plastic, wood, fabric or other material) in
order to make it more resistant to catching fire. Polybrominated diphenylethers
(PBDE) and, in particular Bis(pentabromophenyl)ether or decaBDE, are members of
the family of chemicals congeners widely
used as flame retardant with applications in many different sectors, mainly
plastics and textiles.
How are we exposed to DecaBDE?
The emission and widespread distribution of decaBDE in the environment creates
a high potential for long-term (lifetime) exposure for humans to decaBDE and its
lower brominated PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ether) transformation
Releases to the environment may occur from
polymer processing and use in textile
finishing. In addition, volatilization and
leaching of the flame retardant from
articles and release of dust containing decaBDE, may occur during the lifetime
of the article and at its disposal.
What are the intrinsic hazards associated with decaBDE?
DecaBDE meets the definition of a
Persistent, Toxic and
Bioaccumulable (PBT) and a very Persistent-very Bioaccumulable
(vPvB) substance, which means that it persists for a long time in the
environment and that it accumulates in the body and along the
food chain. Due to the high
uncertainties regarding the risks associated to PBT substances over the years
and decades to eventually reach or trespass any adopted safety limit levels,
these substances are banned (PBTs).
Experience with vPvB substances has shown that they also give rise to specific
concerns based on their potential to
accumulate in the environment and as they
may cause effects that are still unpredictable in the long-term and difficult to
reverse even when emissions cease. Therefore, these are also severely regulated.
What are the human health risks associated with decaBDE?
Above a threshold level, exposure to decaBDE and lower brominated
transformation products may in particular result in neurotoxicity in mammals,
including humans. Concerning exposure to polybrominated BDE
congeners through food, in 2011, the
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that in the EU the congeners
BDE-47, -153 and -209 do not raise a health concern but that, specifically for
congener BDE-99, there is a potential health concern with respect to current
What are the environmental risks related to decaBDE?
Decabromodiphenyl ether appears to have a very low aquatic
toxicity in acute tests, with no effects
being seen up to the substances water
solubility. A EU risk
assessment1 concluded that for decaBDE itself no authority required
further information and/or testing or for risk reduction measures beyond those
which are being applied already for surface
water, sediment and wastewater treatment plants, as well as for
terrestrial and atmospheric
However, although decaBDE is persistent,
there is evidence that it can also degrade under some conditions to more toxic
and bioaccumulative compounds and there is considerable uncertainty in the
indirect risk (“secondary poisoning”) to predators such as fish, birds, mammals.
Therefore there is a need for further information and/or testing on secondary
poisoning from all sources
Why regulatory restrictions at the EU level on use of decaBDE as flame retardant?
DecaBDE is known to undergo long-range transport and emissions from one Member
State that could result in exposure in another, regardless of efforts of that
Member State to reduce exposures within their own borders (i.e. through national
legislation. . The inherent difficulties and time required to complete the work
necessary to eliminate uncertainties about the possibility of long-term
environmental effects that cannot
easily be predicted lead to consider precautionary risk reduction action and
thus to consider regulatory measures and policies at the EU level.
This has led, in February 2017, to Regulation (EU) 2017/227 ,
which includes decaBDE restriction into the EU REACH Regulation on chemicals.
From March 2019, the substance decaBDE shall be subject to a limit of 0,1 % (by
weight) for its use as a constituent in the production of or placing on the
market in another substance, a mixture, an article or any part.
There are currently alternative products that are available and already in use
and the proposed restriction should not negatively affect recycling activities.
Also some specific derogations were proposed, in particular for aviation after
consultation with the European Aviation Safety Agency