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Brominated Flame Retardants and Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE)
(download here the full text of the annexes. Due to their size, the files are zipped together in a single 2.4 MB file - annexes.zip)
APME Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe
BSEF Bromine Science and Environmental Forum
BFR Brominated flame retardant
E&E Electrical and electronic
EBFRIP European Brominated Flame Retardant Industry Panel
EOL End of Life
EPA Environmental Protection Agency
EU European Union
DBDPE Decabromodiphenyl ether
DBDPO Decabromodiphenyl oxide
DTI UK Department of Trade and Industry
EMAS Environmental Management and Auditing Scheme
FR Flame retardant
HB Horizontal burn
HFRs Halogenated flame retardants
HIPS High-impact polystyrene
IEC International Electrotechnical Commission
IPCS International Program for Chemical Safety (a WHO program)
ISO International Standards Organisation
IT Information technology
LCA Life-cycle assessment
MSW Municipal solid waste
NFPA (United States) National Fire Protection Association
OECD Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
OEM Original equipment manufacturer
OBDPO Octobromodiphenyl oxide
OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic
PCBs Polychlorinated biphenyls
PBBs Polybrominated biphenyls
PBDDs Polybrominated dibenzodioxins
PCs Personal computers
PC/ABS Polycarbonate/Acrylonitrile-butadiene- styrene
PCDFs Polybrominated dibenzofurans
PeBDPO Pentabromodiphenyl oxide
PVC Polyvinyl chloride
SP Swedish National Research and Testing Institute
TBBPA Tetrabromobisphenol A
TBPE 1,2- (tribromophenoxy) ethane
TBT Technical Barrier to Trade
UL Underwriters Laboratories
UN-ECE United Nations Environmental Commission for Europe
UNEP United Nations Environment Programme
VIC Voluntary Industry Commitment
WEEE Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment
WHO World Health Organisation
WTO World Trade Organisation
This paper is the response of the European Brominated Flame Retardant Industry Panel (EBFRIP), to an initial proposal by the European Commissions Environment Directorate-General (DG XI) to introduce a phase-out of halogenated flame retardants as part of its draft for a Directive on Waste Electrical & Electronical Equipment (WEEE). EBFRIP represents the brominated flame retardant industry in Europe.
The term «brominated flame retardants» represents a wide range of chemical substances all with different and varying chemical properties and structures. There is a tendency to refer to brominated flame retardants as a whole, and even to all halogenated flame retardants (i.e. those brominated and chlorinated), when one study may have detected concerns with one substance used as a flame retardant. This is particularly the case with the three polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).
The three commercial PBDEs (penta-, octa- and deca-) are currently under review in the EU risk assessment process. Preliminary conclusions already exist but are only likely to be finalised in the second half of 1999. Of the three commercial PBDEs, only penta- is currently a possible candidate for risk reduction measures and it is by no means certain if such provisional conclusions will result in a proposed ban. And in any case, in the context of the future EU Directive on WEEE, it should be stressed that penta- is not used in E&E equipment.
In view of the above and the comparative lack of knowledge of the environmental impact and fire safety performance of alternative materials, there is good reason to guard against making sweeping generalisations on brominated or halogenated flame retardants.
If you would like to receive further information, please do not hesitate to contact:
Mr Bent Jensen,
Flame retardants are used in E&E plastics for one reason: fire safety. Both practical experience and theoretical tests have shown that without flame retardants fires from E&E equipment increase in number and severity, with all the consequences for human life, property, not to mention environmental protection in terms of pollution to air and water.
Of the flame retardants used in E&E equipment, brominated flame retardants are by far the most used. According to APME data, brominated flame retardants protect more than 80% of data processing equipment and brown goods. Brominated flame retardants represent over 90% of the broad category of halogenated flame retardants. Therefore any move to restrict the use of halogenated flame retardants would have a dramatic impact on the way in which plastics are used in E&E equipment and the ability of E&E manufacturers to provide the consumer with higher levels of fire safety. Certain plastics would no longer be able to be used. Certain higher levels of fire safety (such as UL 5V) would no longer be readily achieved.
The move to recover ever-increasing volumes of end-of-life E&E equipment is certainly a challenge to the E&E industry and all those in its upstream supply chain. In fact, brominated flame retardants are not only compatible with this new era of E&E recovery but they can actually provide E&E manufacturers with comparative advantage in terms of the material recyclability of the plastics, the potential for feedstock recycling, the capability to recover energy and the ability to be safely incinerated or landfilled. A summary paper outlining the independent scientific evidence demonstrating BFRs' compatibility with the various waste management options is given in Annex (XVII) under Chapter IV below.
The EU risk assessments of the three commercial PBDEs will provide regulators with the most comprehensive and up-to-date assessment, all scientific evidence available until 15 April 1999 having been brought within their scope. The risk assessments of the PBDEs are well advanced with final conclusions expected in the second half of 1999. Provisional conclusions indicate that there is no need for risk reduction measures as concerns the major PBDPEs, deca-BDPE and octa-BDPE. Current testing will determine the need for risk reduction for the minor brominated flame retardant penta-BDPE, but this is not used in E&E applications. It is of concern if a process to which the EU institutions have devolved the regulatory judgement on the state of the science were to be completely ignored by one of those EU institutions, the European Commission.
In summary, the DG XI's draft proposal to introduce a phase-out of halogenated flame retardants:
EBFRIP, the European Brominated Flame Retardants Industry Panel, was formed in the mid-1980s. Its members are the major manufacturers of brominated flame retardants in the European market. EBFRIP members Albemarle, Eurobrom (representing Dead Sea Bromine Group), Elf-Atochem, Ferro Corp. and Great Lakes Chem. Corp, - and a number of major polymer producers as associate members make up the panel. EBFRIP operates under the regulations and guidance of CEFIC, the European Chemical Industry Confederation based in Brussels (see Annex I for industry group organigramme).
EBFRIP supports its members commitment to Responsible Care. In particular, EBFRIP has undertaken a number of proactive initiatives to develop the scientific and regulatory understanding of brominated flame retardants. These include the following:
EBFRIP cooperates fully with the industrys global organisation, the Bromine Science and Environment Forum (BSEF). BSEF was established in 1997 in order to coordinate the industrys scientific programmes globally and to ensure effective communications at this level. BSEFs science programme follows the same principles as EBFRIPs, namely the pursuit of scientific understanding through projects carried out independently by leading scientific experts. Projects in the industrys science programme related to WEEE currently underway include:
To our knowledge, there is only one case of a brominated flame retardant being banned and even this was limited to one particular application. EU Directive 83/264/EEC, amending for the 4th time Directive 76/769/EEC on the marketing and use of certain dangerous substances and preparations, prevents the use of polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) CAS N° 59536-65-1 in textile articles, such as garments, undergarments and linen, intended to come into contact with the skin.
There have been several unsuccessful attempts to introduce regulatory restrictions on PBDEs and/or PBBs:
Apart from the EU Risk Assessment, there have been other scientific reviews of certain brominated flame retardants :
3. Brominated flame retardants and WEEE
3.1 View on DG XI draft proposal on WEEE (2nd draft)
It is often assumed that BFRs make plastic recovery more complex or even impossible. Such perceptions are simply not matched by experience and ignore reality. Indeed some OEMs have gone on record stating that the recyclability of polymers with BFRs is actually preferable to competing alternatives. Moreover, there is data demonstrating that the recycling of BFR polymers is safe.
EBFRIP commented on the 1st and the 2nd version of the draft DG XI proposal for a WEEE directive. Both statements are attached as Annexes XIV and XV. Key arguments EBFRIP has put forward include:
3.2 End-of-life BFR plastics a flexible option for
Integrated Waste Management
There is a perception that BFRs in some way affect adversely the potential to recover plastics. In fact there is a wide range of data and practical experience demonstrating that the end-of-life (EOL) management of plastics containing BFRs is fully compatible with an integrated waste management concept, in line with EU waste policy. Such reports suggest that BFRs in E&E equipment will not prevent the recovery, including recycling, of materials currently in use. In fact any move to restrict the use of BFRs in E&E equipment would preclude the development of products and processes which may provide the best solution for future recovery and recycling goals. Detailed information of ongoing projects and studies on EOL and references can be obtained from the BSEF Science Programme (Annex XVI) and the EBFRIP statement "Recovery, including recycling, of plastics containing brominated flame retardants" (Annex XVII.)
Several studies have shown that plastics containing BFRs can be recycled. Plastics containing BFRs can meet the strict PBDD/F limit values of the German "Dioxin Ordinance" in the recyclate if recycling is carried out according to standard health and safety practices. Further independent studies sponsored by the industry on the recycling of BFR plastics and on related potential workplace exposure are currently in process. Additionally, work has been carried out and will continue with a view to optimising identification and separation processes for plastics containing BFRs so as to enable the separate treatment of this type of plastics on an operational scale. Moreover, the copiers industry convinced the German Environmental Agency (UBA) and the Nordic Countries to delay eco-label criteria discriminating against BFRs (Blue Angel, White Swan) precisely because BFR plastics were preferable from the point of view of recyclability. (See Annex XVIII for Ricoh table of conclusions from tests on different E&E polymer options.)
APME has concluded that feedstock recycling of plastics from WEEE is one potential option and is an environmentally sound method for recovering HFR plastics. Tests have been carried out on a commercial scale successfully. The bromine industry is currently undertaking a feasibility study to determine the economic and technical viability of bromine recovery from plastics containing BFRs. This would close the bromine loop, ensuring the sustainability of bromine production. The conclusions of the pre-feasibility study are very promising and a summary sheet of the report is attached as Annex XIX.
Incineration tests, pyrolysis and combustion studies have demonstrated that waste from E&E equipment can be safely added to todays municipal solid waste to generate useful energy in an environmentally sound manner. The formation of brominated dioxins/furans (PBDDs/Fs) is not altered by the presence of the bromine-containing waste, and remains well within emission standards in these processes. The OECD came to the same conclusions (Annex XX). OECD noted that the highest formation rates for PBDDs/Fs from PBDEs during theoretical laboratory experiments were associated with a combination of abnormally low temperatures and pyrolitic conditions. Modern waste-to-energy facilities are specifically designed to avoid these conditions. A report from the European Commission came to the same conclusions. (See Annex XXI.)
Any presumption that BFRs make plastics recovery more complex requires justification as it could be argued that any plastics additive makes plastics recovery a more complicated process. The fact is that without additives plastics would no longer be able to be used in the vast majority of applications. BFRs add value to E&E plastics by enabling E&E equipment manufacturers to go beyond minimum fire safety standards in order to enhance consumer safety levels. The widespread use of BFRs in E&E appliances over the last ten years is all the more reason to ensure that these high value plastics can clearly be identified, thus avoiding their disposal and enabling their separation for recovery, including their reuse and recycling.
3.7 Detailed comments on DG XI draft proposal on WEEE
Fire prevention is essential from a number of perspectives: protection of life; protection of property; and protection of the environment, through prevention of immediate local pollution to air and water not to speak of the lesser-known long-term effects.
Fire safety should not be an option for E&E equipment. Electricity is a fire hazard. Time and again fire statistics demonstrate that one of the primary root causes of fire is electrical. In particular, the benefits of using plastics in E&E appliances come hand in hand with the need to manage the risk of fire. Plastics are after all hydrocarbons with a high energy content which can help fuel a fire. Their increased use in E&E appliances over the years has only been possible by the parallel development and application of flame retardants.
Fires can result from faulty product design but are often the result of misuse or abuse of the appliance. Educating the consumer to remove the dust from the appliance backplate, not to places candles or smoking materials on the appliance, or to avoid carrying out do-it-yourself repairs is a long-term process. At the same time, certain E&E appliance design and use trends work against fire safety. For example, appliances are often left unattended and are increasingly designed to be permanently switched on. Efforts to prevent ignition through the use of flame-retarded materials therefore represent an essential pillar in any integrated fire safety strategy for the E&E industry.
e may all be aware of the regular reports of television set fires in local newspapers throughout Europe. However, the increasing trend for television set fires has yet to be widely appreciated. Shortly to be published evidence of increasing fires in Europe in television sets emphasises the need for caution when regulators and the E&E industry approach issues directly related to E&E appliance fire safety. (See Annex XXII for draft report on TV set fire statistics).
The increasing incidence of television set fires appears to be linked to the television set industrys decision back in the early 1990s no longer to apply the higher UL 94 V-0 fire safety level for housings and backplates and to only use the low UL 94 HB fire safety level specified in standard IEC 65. By contrast, outside Europe, the same television set manufacturers ensure the supply of UL 94 V-0 compliant materials only.
Technical progress by manufacturers in terms of internal part fire safety (in particular through improved isolation of heated components) do not appear to have reversed the trend of increasing television set fires. By having less flame-resistant outer parts, the risk of fire from external sources (such as candles or smoking materials) is increased. This was confirmed in a study on full scale fire tests with TV sets in a fully furnished room: While TV sets with UL 94 V-0 compliant materials did not burn when exposed to external ignition sources of increasing energy, TV sets with housing materials of low fire safety (UL 94 HB) rapidly ignited and led to flash over within 7 minutes and to complete destruction of the room contents. (See Annex XXIII for an outline of the different fire safety tests and their applicability.) A more detailed overview on fire risks from TV sets is given in Annex XXIV.
By contrast, some E&E manufacturers adopt a precautionary approach to fire safety in that they specify more than the minimum fire safety level in their material specifications. This is the case with IBM, which specifies compliance with UL 5VA, the most stringent of the UL vertical burning tests, for certain internal electronic parts. Following extensive testing, IBM has concluded that "the only formulation that meets flammability class 5VA requirements is one that is compounded with brominated fire retardants" (see Annex XXV for paper entitled "Fire safety concerns play key role in the material selection process" by Dr Inder Wadehra, IBM Corporation).
BFRs prevent fires from occurring but even when the fire source is intense enough to make fire ignition inevitable, they help slow down fire spread and dramatically increase the crucial parameter in population fire safety, escape time.
BFRs are the primary flame retardant used in E&E equipment. Statistics from the plastics industry demonstrate that within the EU more than 80% of the flame retardants used in data processing equipment and brown goods are brominated. (See Annex XXVI for detailed figures on BFRs used in E&E equipment.)
BFRs have become the products of choice in numerous E&E materials and for countless E&E applications for several reasons, including their:
For some polymers widely used in E&E applications (e.g. High Impact Polystyrene HIPS), BFRs represent the only way in which the basic fire safety level set by UL 94 V-0 can be met while maintaining the necessary polymer properties such as strength and recyclability.
In summary, a ban on halogenated flame retardants would discourage OEMs from specifying ever-greater fire safety for the following reasons:
This minimalist approach to fire safety goes in the opposite direction of the precautionary approach which many OEMs currently implement.
5. EU Risk Assessment, Toxicology, Ecotoxicology
BFRs have been accused of many things over the past ten years, from the mysterious deaths of elks to an unexplained disease in salmon. Each time, either the theory has been rejected or there has been no evidence of a cause and effect.
The EU risk assessment process was designed to provide the regulator with a scientific process by which to assess the need for risk reduction measures concerning individual chemical substances. Being science-based, it takes time to amass and analyse the scientific data. It is therefore fortunate that the WEEE Directive comes at a time when one of the major groups of BFRs the PBDEs is soon to be the subject of finalised conclusions under the EU risk assessment process. While finalised conclusions are expected in the second half of 1999, preliminary conclusions indicate that there is no need for risk reduction measures as concerns the main PBDEs used in E&E applications: octa-BDPE and, in particular, deca-BDPE.
The EU risk assessment of the PBDEs represents the most comprehensive assessment of these products and takes into account all scientific data submitted up to 15 April 1999. Thus concerns related primarily to the presence of primarily two PBDEs (tetra-BDPE and penta-BDPE) in the environment and in biota have been taken into account.
PBDEs have been detected at low levels in North Sea core sediments dating as far back as 1939, some thirty years prior to their commercialisation (Reference: Nylund et al. 1992). This would suggest a natural source for the presence of at least some of the PBDEs traced in environmental samples today. Over 2000 organohalogens have so far been identified. (See Annex XXVII for executive summary of scientific review paper).
Levels of PBDEs in the environment and biota increased in the 1980s but have tended to decrease in some species in the 1990s (reference Bignert et al, 1998). At all times levels of PBDEs have been at least a factor of 10 below that recorded for PCBs.
An explanation for the presence of PBDEs in the environment is unlikely to come solely from the natural sources mentioned above. The sources would appear therefore to be man-made resulting from the use of PBDEs as chemical products. Two issues need to be resolved in this respect:
The industry has commissioned leading independent scientists to further the scientific understanding as to the sources of the PBDEs found in the environment. Dr Jacob de Boer of the Netherlands Institute for Fisheries Research (RIVO-DLO) reviewed this issue in a paper at the Dioxin 98 Conference. Two main theories tend to exist: debromination and the consequence of historic emissive uses in the oil drilling and mining industries.
Historic uses other than as a flame retardant:
Past use in the 1980s of one PBDE the blended product penta-BDPE as a hydraulic fluid in the oil-drilling industry and in the mining industry is recorded through the registered patents. Penta-BDPE was certainly tested as an alternative to PCBs. Its persistent and bioaccumulative properties make it unsuited for such emissive uses compared to its limited use as a flame retardant, thus providing a lesson for regulators to be careful not to encourage the use of alternative chemicals which could have their own environmental issues. The commercial product entitled penta (penta-BDPE) is actually a blend of tetra-, penta- and hexa-BDPE and it is these PBDEs that have been recorded in Baltic and North Sea environmental and biota samples.
Falling levels of the PBDEs recorded in the environment and biota in the 1990s would appear to support the view that it is historic uses not related to the use of PBDEs as flame retardants which are the source.
EBFRIP and BSEF are committed to discovering the source of tetra-BDPE and penta-BDPE in the food chain. However, it is important to point out that, though every effort must be made to ensure these chemicals do not get into the food chain, there is, in fact, no evidence of a threat to human health. A more detailed profile of the toxicology of the different PBDEs is given in Annex XXVIII. Increased levels of tetra-BDPE found in human breast milk are certainly a cause for concern. The levels are a factor of 100 below that found for PCBs and, contrary to some irresponsible press reporting, there is no correlation between the use of E&E equipment and the higher levels found. Indeed the one correlation identified was a link between smoking mothers and the presence of tetra-BDPE in breast milk.
6. International Trade & Socio-Economic Aspects
6.1 International trade and fire safety
E&E goods are increasingly competing in a global market. It is therefore an objective for many E&E equipment manufacturers to satisfy global product standards with one product meeting all standards.
A phase-out of halogenated flame retardants will make it impossible for some plastic materials to meet voluntary fire safety standards. The voluntary nature of these so-called standards has already led to most manufacturers of television sets reducing the flame resistance of their models for the European market. Such products would not be acceptable in the North American and Japanese markets for reasons of concern over fire safety.
At the same time, it is questionable whether the EU should be discouraging OEMs from adopting the highest levels of fire safety in view of European firms strong track record and image as producers of products with which consumers worldwide can expect to be of the highest standards in terms of safety.
6.2 International trade compliance with basic WTO/Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) rules
We assume that Article 4.4s draft ban of the use of, amongst other substances, halogenated flame retardants would be equally applicable to domestic production as well as to E&E products imported into the EU. By definition, therefore, the DG XIs proposed prohibition is an international trade issue. While the draft Directive may be consistent with WTO rules from the perspective of avoiding national preference, the substance phase-out raises concerns with regard to its compatibility with Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement in the following ways:
The draft proposals mandatory percentage for recycled content raises similar trade barrier questions.
CER (the UKs Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling) has indicated that "the most dramatic requirement facing producers is the cost of phasing out heavy metals and halogenated flame retardants". (See Annex XXIX for figures indicated in ENDS article.) One OEM has indicated in a private communication to EBFRIP that an HFR ban would result in costs to its manufacturing plants across Europe in the region of an average $11 million per plant.
Polymer producers of HIPS and ABS are likely to be the most affected as much of the E&E market is not accessible without the use of halogenated flame retardants because of the fire safety demands.
Plastic compounders for E&E applications are typically SME companies. The capital investment is polymer specific and thus to ban the use of HFRs would require often prohibitive investment in new processing equipment due to individual polymer reliance on BFRs to meet the desired fire safety standards.
For itself the brominated flame retardants industry has major plants in the UK, the Netherlands and France totalling 850 employees.