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EPA Issues Flame Retardant Risk Report

Friday, September 27, 2013

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Safer options are available for a flame-retardant chemical commonly used in polystyrene building insulation, according to a new report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) has persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic characteristics, EPA said Tuesday (Sept. 24) in releasing its 199-page draft document on the chemical.

The findings in the report, which is available for download here, can help manufacturers identify safer alternatives to the use of HBCD in building insulation, EPA says.

EPS insulation
EPA draft report

The flame retardant that is the subject of EPA’s draft report is commonly used in expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, which is used as insulation for buildings.

The draft report is available for public review and comment until Nov. 22.

Movement to Safer Chemicals

“While EPA continues to support much-needed reform of the Toxics Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA is taking steps now to address the public’s concern with certain flame-retardant chemicals, including making information available to companies to help them make decisions on safer chemicals,” said Jim Jones, EPA’s assistant administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution  Prevention.

“The conclusions in this report are enabling companies who choose to move away from HBCD to do so with confidence that the potential for unintended consequences is minimized,” he added.

What is HBCD?

HBCD is a brominated flame retardant that presents potential human health concerns based on animal test results indicating potential reproductive, developmental and neurological effects, EPA said in the assessment.

The chemical is most commonly used in expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) and extruded polystyrene foam (XPS), which are used as insulation in the building and construction industries to meet fire-safety standards.

It is also used in materials such as textile back coatings on institutional carpet tiles or upholstery and military fabrics, the agency reports, citing the European Chemicals Agency.

Other minor uses of the chemical were also identified in the report.

Report Finds 2 Alternatives

The Design for the Environment (DfE) Alternatives Assessment draft report, developed with stakeholder and public participation, describes the uses of HBCD and provides an overview of the chemical's life cycle and exposure information.

flames engulfing a house

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 report identifies two viable chemical alternatives for use in polystyrene building insulation, in addition to a list of substances that are not currently expected to be viable.

One alternative, a butadiene styrene brominated copolymer, is anticipated to be safer than HBCD and is currently in commercial production in the United States, EPA said.

Another chemical, TBBPA-bis brominated ether derivative, was also proposed as an alternative in the report.

The agency also listed and described alternative insulation materials identified by stakeholders, including blanket insulation; foamed-in-place insulation; and loose-fill, blown, and sprayed insulation.

Four Risk Assessments

In March 2013, as part of a broader effort to address flame-retardant chemicals, EPA announced that it had identified 20 flame retardants for risk assessment under the TSCA Work Plan.

The plan included developing full risk assessments on four of those chemicals, including HBCD.  The other chemicals are 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 tetrabromophthalate (TBPH); and Tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP).

An EPA spokesperson said risk assessments on the other chemicals were still in progress as of Wednesday (Sept. 25).

The agency said it would use the information from these full assessments to better understand chemicals with similar structures and characteristics. Should the agency identify potential risks, it will evaluate and pursue appropriate risk reduction actions.

EPA plans to identify further development of these risk assessments later in 2013 and anticipates making the draft risk assessments available for public comment and peer review in 2014. 

ChemView Tool

To further assist companies in selecting safer chemicals for products they manufacture, EPA recently launched ChemView.

The web-based tool, released earlier this month, is designed to provide the public and decision-makers with a single access point to a wide array of chemical data, including the results of the HBCD alternatives assessment.


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

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