Phase Out of BFRs by 2012 Should Please Electronics Critics

by | Dec 21, 2009

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chemicalsChemtura, Albemarle and ICL Industrial Products have agreed to voluntarily phase out their production of decabromodiphenyl ether (Deca), a brominated flame retardant (BFR), by December 2012 in an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, reports the New York Times. A full ban would start a year later. Replacement flame retardants are already in the works.

Computer makers including HP, Dell and Lenovo have cited the lack of a reasonable alternative to BFRs as a reason not to change the chemical makeup of their electronic components, drawing the ire of groups like Greenpeace, which has long pushed electronics manufacturers to phase-out their use of the BFRs in their computer products.

The announcement came two days after legislation to force a phase-out of Deca was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), reports the Environmental Working Group.

The Decabromine Elimination and Control Act of 200 (H.R. 4394) would ban Deca in all products by the end of 2013, according to the press release. The measure would complement a number of state-imposed restrictions on Deca, including legislation passed by Maine in 2007.

Steve Owens, the EPA’s top toxics official, stated that the chemical potentially causes cancer, may impact brain function, and could also degrade into more toxic chemicals hazardous to wildlife, reports the New York Times.

Some states have already passed legislation prohibiting the product’s manufacture or use in certain products, according to the New York Times.

California took the first step to ban similar chemicals, polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants, which are used in plastics and foams in 2003, reports Plastics Technology.

These companies are developing Deca-BDE alternatives. As an example, Albermarle has developed its eco-friendly EarthWise GreenArmor, a polymer-based flame retardant technology, which is recyclable.

The new material is expected to be commercially available in the second half of 2010, according to Design News.

GreenArmor is also said to be the first product in a broad-based program at Albemarle to develop specialty chemical products that are environmentally friendly, reports Design News.

Chemtura says its phase-out will focus initially on consumer segments such as electronics and home furnishings, followed by transportation and industrial uses. The company also notes that there may be exceptions for certain transportation and military uses, which may require extended time to qualify suitable substitutes.

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