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Poly brominated flame retardant decaBDE: updated hazards, risks and regulatory measures adopted.

Poly brominated flame retardant decaBDE home

Context - Flame retardants are used in the production of many fabrics, plastics and other materials to make them more resistant to catching fire.

Among these products, is decaBDE, widely used, safe to use?

This is a faithful synthesis and summary of several scientific consensus reports. For the full list of sources, see the references.

Latest update: 23 March 2017

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 products.

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 dietary exposure.

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 compartments.

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 (EASA).

ECHA - Annex XV - Restriction Report - Proposal for a restriction - Bis(pentabromophenyl) ether 
EFSA - Scientific Opinion on Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) in Food EFSA Journal 2011;9(5):2156 
ECHA – decabromodiphenylether Risk assessment report  

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