logo

Environmental Protection Agency to assess flame retardants

By: Gayle S. Putrich

April 5, 2013

WASHINGTON — Five flame retardants commonly used in the plastics industry are coming under the scrutiny of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The agency's 2013 Toxic Substances Control Act includes plans to study 20 flame-retardant chemicals, some of which will get a deeper look with a full risk assessment, evaluating the effects of chemical contaminates exposure on the environment and humans.

The names of four chemicals on the list of 20 are not disclosed because companies have claimed them as confidential business information.

Of the chemicals named, those used in plastics include:

  •  2-Ethylhexyl ester 2,3,4,5- tetrabromobenzoate (TBB)
  •  1,2-Ethylhexyl 3,4,5,6-tetrabromo-benzenedicarboxylate or (2-ethylhexyl)-3,4,5,6 tetrabromo¬phthalate (TBPH)
  •  Tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP)
  •  2-Propanol, 1,3-dichloro-, phos¬phate (TDCPP)
  •  Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) and related congeners

Both TBB and TBPH are used in liquid flame retardants for polyurethane furniture foams, including Firemaster 550, a common, proprietary flame retardant made by Chemtura Corp. TDCPP is also found in the PU foam used in upholstered furniture.

TCEP is also used in PU foam and is found in furniture, baby products and some carpet backing. The European Union began limiting the use of TCEP in 2011, particularly in toys.

HBCD is typically found in expanded polystyrene and extruded PS building materials such as insulation.

Four of the five — TBB, TBHP, TCEP and HBCD — will get a full risk assessment, according to EPA.

The agency said it plans to use a "structure-based approach," grouping flame retardants with similar characteristics together for assessment.

EPA plans to use the assessments to understand the other chemicals in the group, which currently lack sufficient data for a full risk assessment.

The agency said it will also begin "environmental fate investigations" of eight other flame-retardant chemicals that rank high for persistence, bioaccumulation and/or exposure potential, but for which there is not adequate data to conduct risk assessments. Those investigations examine how the chemicals move through and are transformed in the environment.

The entire review process could take a year or more.

Of the more than 80,000 common chemicals in use in the U.S., around 200 have undergone this type of deep assessment by EPA. Only five have been banned as a result, though use of more than 60 others is now severely restricted.

The American Chemistry Council in Washington said it supports the overall approach EPA is taking on the 2013 work plan under TSCA authority, though there are rumblings in the current Congress and outside the Beltway that the 1976 law regulating chemicals used in everyday products needs to be revamped.

"Those of our members with expertise and information will contribute to EPA's planned assessment of these substances. These chemicals, including flame retardants, provide significant benefits and many have been subjected to reviews by national and international government bodies," ACC said in a statement.

"We encourage EPA to work with stakeholders to fully understand what information is already available to the agency on these chemicals, to see what further information may be needed for these assessments and to assure there is sufficient time to provide that information to the agency."