Associate Members
Additional Information

This Site © Copyright 1998-1999 EBFRIP

Back to EBFRIP Home Statement

Brominated Flame Retardants and Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE)

- An Industry Perspective -

June 1999

1.1 Industry initiatives
1.2 Science Programme
2.1 EU Regulatory Developments
2.2 Other Scientific Reviews
3.1 View on DG XI draft proposal on WEEE (2nd draft)


End-of-life BFR plastics – a flexible option for Integrated Waste Management
3.3 Mechanical Recycling
3.4 Feedstock Recycling
3.5 Energy Recovery
3.6 Conclusions
3.7 Detailed Comments on DG XI Draft Proposal on WEEE
6.1 International trade and fire safety
6.2 International trade – compliance with basic WTO/Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) rules
6.3 Socio-economic impact


(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)

  1. Industry group organigramme

  2. Voluntary Industry Commitment by the US and European Producers of Selected Brominated Flame Retardants covered under OECD’s Risk Reduction Programme, 30 June 1995.

  3. Executive summary and index of "The Incorporation of Fire Considerations in the Life-Cycle Assessment of Polymeric Composite Materials: A Preparatory Study", Swedish Testing and Research Institute (SP) Report 1998.

  4. Abstract of "Fire Safety of TV-sets and PC-monitors", by Dr. Jürgen H. Troitzsch, Fire Protection Service, Wiesbaden, Germany.

  5. Summary of fire tests programme in Stormbruch, German Insurance Federation and German Federal Police, 12 May 1997.

  6. Presentation of the Bayforrest project, 1999.

  7. Extract of the Swedish National Chemicals Inspectorate (KemI) report "Phase-out of PBDEs and PBBs", 15 March 1999.

  8. Report of the "Project group Flame Retardants" in the Netherlands, February 1998.

  9. BSEF Statement on KemI report, 8 April 1999.

  10. "Are the risks of brominated flame retardants exaggerated", Testing and Research (P&F), Dr. Margaret Simonson, Swedish Testing and Research Institute (SP), 1/1999.

  11. Answer to MEP Question on behalf of European Commission, Official Journal of 21 May 1999, 1999/C 142/082.

  12. WHO 1997 – Environmental Health Criteria 192: Flame retardants: A General Introduction, Extract on Brominated Flame Retardants.

  13. EBFRIP press release on University of Surrey report "Risks and Benefits in the Use of Flame Retardants in Consumer Products", February 1999.

  14. EBFRIP position paper on Draft Proposal for Directive on Waste on Electric and Electronic Equipment, 14 May 1998.

  15. EBFRIP position paper on the 2nd Draft Proposal for a Directive on Waste on Electric and Electronic Equipment, 7 September 1999.

  16. BSEF Science Programme – references to studies and projects on WEEE.

  17. EBFRIP statement on "Recovery, including recycling, of plastics containing BFRs", 18 January 1999.

  18. Ricoh table on different E&E polymer options: "Pros and cons of incombustible polymer for OA equipment".

  19. Executive summary of PB Kennedy & Donkin pre-feasibility study on feedstock recycling.

  20. Conclusions on energy recovery from "OECD report on incineration of products containing BFRs", 1998.

  21. Abstract from European Commission "Techno-economic study on the reduction of industrial emissions to air, discharges to water and the generation of wastes from the production, processing and destruction (by incineration) of brominated flame retardants", final report, 1995.

  22. Report on "Fire Safety of TV set enclosure materials; A survey of European Statistics" by M. De Poortere, C. Schonbach and M. Simonson, 1999.

  23. "Fire safety requirements, flammability and fire behaviour of TV sets", Dr Jürgen H. Troitzsch, Fire & Environment Protection Service.

  24. "Flame retardant plastics and E&E equipment fire safety – requirements and studies", paper given Dr Jürgen H. Troitzsch, Fire & Environment Protection Service, at the Flame Retardants ’98 Conference, London, 3-4 February 1998.

  25. "Fire safety concerns play key role in the material selection process"; Article by Dr. Inder Wadehra, IBM Corporation, MPI Handbook, 1999.

  26. "Data of relevance to brominated flame retardants & electronic waste, table prepared by EBFRIP, May 1999.

  27. Quantities of natural organobromines: Abstract from "The Diversity of Natural Organobromines in Living Organisms" by Dr. Gordon Gribble, awaiting publication.

  28. Abstract from "Regulatory status and environmental properties of BFRs undergoing risk assessment in the EU: DBDPO, OBDPO, PeBDPO and HBCD", Paper by Dr. Marcia Hardy, Lille, 20-21 May 1997.

  29. "Industry claims electrical waste Directive would cost £2.5 bn in the UK", ENDs report 287, December 1998.


ABS Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene

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

HBCD Hexabromocyclododecane

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

PBDPEs Polybrominated diphenyl ethers

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 Commission’s 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,
Secretary of EBFRIP,
Av. E. Van Nieuwenhuyse 4, bte 2
B-1160 Brussels, Belgium
phone +32-2 676 72 40
fax +32-2 676 73 01
email: [email protected]


Executive summary

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:

  • would prevent E&E manufacturers from adopting the highest levels of fire safety;

  • ignores the enhanced recyclability of those plastics which can only be protected by brominated flame retardants;

  • contradicts the EU’s own emerging risk assessments ; and

  • is therefore an unjustified restriction on trade.

1. EBFRIP background

EBFRIP, the European Brominated Flame Retardants Industry Panel, was formed in the mid-1980’s. 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).

1.1 Industry initiatives

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:

  • OECD Voluntary Industry Commitment (VIC): the industry was the first to sign (in 1995) a voluntary agreement with the OECD. This agreement covers the one commercial polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) and the three commercial polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and includes commitments regarding product purity and cooperation with end-use industries on safe disposal. (See Annex II for VIC text.)

  • Life-cycle assessment of E&E equipment: EBFRIP is part-funding an extensive life-cycle assessment, comparing flame-retarded and non-flame-retarded E&E equipment, by the Swedish National Research and Testing Institute (SP) in association with the Swedish Environmental Research Institute (IVL). This will be the first time that the environmental impact of fires are taken into account in an overall LCA. (See Annex III for SP project executive summary and index.)

  • Fire testing of TV sets: in response to evidence of increasing TV set fires in Europe (and in particularly in Sweden), EBFRIP part-funded a fire testing program in 1997 carried out by the German State Materials Research and Testing Establishment, Leipzig (MFPA). The programme clearly demonstrated the comparative ease with which television sets on the European market burn from a relatively minor external fire source in the form of a small candle. Consumer interviews indicate that this trend of reduced protection from fire goes in the opposite direction to consumer expectations. (See Annex IV for executive summary of MFPA programme report.)

  • German insurance/police fire testing programme: in order to provide greater protection for housing of a higher risk from fire, the German Insurance Federation (VdS) and the German Federal Police sponsored real life scenario testing of the fire safety of different apartments. EBFRIP was a co-sponsor. Those apartments benefiting from passive protection systems such as through the use of flame retardants in sofa furniture and electronic equipment clearly showed significantly higher protection from the risk of fire. The German Insurance Federation is scheduled to issue a programme report in the second half of 1999, as well as video communication materials orientat towards the consumer. (See Annex V for fire test programme summary.)

1.2 Science Programme

EBFRIP cooperates fully with the industry’s global organisation, the Bromine Science and Environment Forum (BSEF). BSEF was established in 1997 in order to coordinate the industry’s scientific programmes globally and to ensure effective communications at this level. BSEF’s science programme follows the same principles as EBFRIP’s, namely the pursuit of scientific understanding through projects carried out independently by leading scientific experts. Projects in the industry’s science programme related to WEEE currently underway include:

  • GfA : Measuring the potential for lower PBDEs to be formed during plastics recycling; potential for dioxin/furan formation in the polymer during recycling. (Both to be completed by end-June 1999.)

  • University of Erlangen : Measuring the potential for worker exposure to dioxins and furans in the course of recycling PBDE plastics. (End-September 1999.)

  • Bayforrest : PBDE plastics recycling. (First results available – see Annex VI for main conclusions.)

  • CYCLE : Identification and separation of plastics with brominated flame retardants. First results due in June 1999 (programme to be completed by year-end.)

  • Kennedy & Donkin : Preliminary feasibility study into recovering bromine from E&E plastics waste. (First results available.)

2. A brief legislative history

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:

2.1 Regulatory developments

  • EU - Marketing and Use – (76/769/EEC) – 1991/1994: in 1991, the European Commission issued a proposal (COM/91/7) to phase out the use of PBDEs and PBBs under the framework of the Directive on marketing and use of dangerous substances (76/769/EEC). The proposal raised concerns in the European Parliament with regard to its impact on fire safety and the lack of harmonisation for furniture fire safety standards continues to be an issue for MEPs. In April 1994, the Europen Commission withdrew its proposal for a Council Directive restricting the marketing and use of PBDEs stating that « the international scientific community is now much less convinced that the PBDPEs pose an unacceptable danger to human health and the environement ».

  • Sweden – OSPAR  - 1994/1996: Sweden has on two occasions tried to introduce a phase-out of PBDEs and/or PBBs through the OSPAR Convention concerning protection of the North-East Atlantic. A useful summary of these unsuccessful attempts to phase-out is given in the March 1999 Swedish Chemicals Inspectorate (KemI) report on PBDEs and PBBs (also referred to below). (See Annex VII for relevant KemI report extract.)

  • The Netherlands - 1993: In 1993, the Dutch government published a proposed ban on PBDEs and PBBs. The Dutch Environment Minister decided in a letter of 25 August 1995 not to implement the ban for the following reasons: brominated dioxins and furans had subsequently been found "not (to be) an essential part of incineration smoke-gasses and fly ash"; "the import of plastic products containing DeBB, OcBDO or DeBDO as flame retardant does not result in a substantial raise of the total content of brominated dibenzodioxins and dibenzofurans", "DeBB and DeBDO are not responsible for a substantial bio-accumulation in the aquatic environment". For further details see Annex VIII for summary report from Project Group Flame Retardant in the Netherlands.

  • EU - DG XI – WEEE – 1998 – : The DG XI’s draft proposal (dated 7 August 1998) includes a phase-out by 2004 for all halogenated flame retardants. Bromine and chlorine compounds are the only halogenated compounds of commercial significance as flame retardants and, of these, it is the « brominated flame retardants (which) are much more numerous than the chlorinated types because of their higher efficacy » (WHO, 1997). This draft proposal has met with concerns from all industry sectors in the E&E product chain. (For detailed comments see section 4 below).

  • Sweden – KemI - 1999: In March 1999, KemI recommended a ban on all PBDEs and PBBs in a report for the Swedish Ministry of Environment. The report is mainly based on concern with the occurrence of tetra-BDPE and penta-BDPE in the environment and the food chain. These chemical substances are the main components of one PBDE, the commercial product penta-BDPE. The major PBDEs, deca-BDPE and octa-BDPE, have only been observed in the environment in isolated cases. (See BSEF statement in Annex IX.). Margaret Simonson (SP) has written an article questioning if the risks of BFRs are exaggerated, Dr Simonson indicates that the alleged dangers associated with BFRs are being discussed without consideration of their benefits in terms of fire safety, see translation of article published in Sweden by Dr. Simonson of SP in Annex X)

  • EU - Risk Assessment – Existing Substances Regulation (93/793/EEC) - 1999: The most comprehensive assessment of the environmental and health risks related to the use of PBDEs is scheduled to be finalised during the second half of 1999. Preliminary conclusions indicate that the major PBDEs used as flame retardants, octa-BDPE and deca-BDPE, are unlikely to require risk reduction measures. The flame retardant penta-BDPE may require risk reduction measures but this is not used in E&E applications. This position is confirmed in a statement on 1st December 1998 from the EU Environment Commissioner in answer to an MEP question (see Annex XI).

2.2 Other Scientific Reviews 

Apart from the EU Risk Assessment, there have been other scientific reviews of certain brominated flame retardants :

  • European Commission (1992) (reference ETD/91/B8-5300/MI/44): This report carried out for the European Commission focussed on the "Toxicity and Ecotoxicity of Flame Retardants used in the Industry of Upholsetered Furniture". The report was designed to give "a general view on the specific uses, advantages and disadvantages of the main groups of ‘flame retardants’". The report found that among flame retardants, there are compounds "able to guarantee that during the (sic) normal use the treated product is not dangerous for the (sic) human health, and that at the moment of disposal…the same product can be eliminated without requiring specific treatments for the (sic) environmental protection".

  • European Commission (1996) (reference: ISBN 92-827-5577-0): This techno-economic study focussed on the control of industrial emissions from the manufacture of PBBs, PBDEs and TBBPA. It was found that: there is "an adequate combination of existing proven techniques/equipment (for controlling emissions), supplemented by the application of good practices such as waste minimisation"; and "release of BFRs from production processes are minimal and those from the plastics processing industry can be adequately controlled".

  • WHO (1997): The report provided a "general overview" of flame retardants, underlining their important role in saving lives, the complex process involved in the selection of the flame retardant/material combination and the insignificance of potential exposure to brominated dioxins and furans. The chapter on the different types of flame retardants provides a summary section on brominated flame retardants – see Annex XII.

  • WHO (1998) : In general, the findings contained in the WHO Report on polybrominated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans do not support its conclusions that "brominated flame retardants should not be used where suitable replacements are available." There is little or no information in the text showing that brominated flame retardants are a source of polybrominated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans in the environment. The report is mostly based on studies predating 1996 and since then incineration studies have demonstrated the lack of increased polybrominated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans even from waste with artificially high levels of brominated flame retardants. Product tests by independent testing laboratories demonstrate the compliance of the major brominated flame retardants with the German Dioxin Ordinance.

  • DTI/University of Surrey (1999) : In February 1999, the DTI released a report entitled « Risks and Benefits in the Use of Flame Retardants in Consumer Products ». The report concluded: "Examination of the toxicology of a number of the more common flame retardants used in consumer products [including deca-BDPE and TBBPA] indicates that most do not pose any significant threats to human life and the environment and that the associated risks are very small in comparison with the risks of death arising from unrestrained fire processes." For the DTI’s press release on the report along with the executive summary and a statement from EBFRIP see Annex XIII.

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:

  • Chemical diversity necessitates a case by case approach to HFRs;

  • The emerging EU Risk Assessments on PBDEs cannot be ignored;

  • A waste directive is the wrong tool for any substance bans; Directive 76/769/EEC on marketing of chemicals provides the appropriate forum for considering such matters;

  • Without HFRs, OEM’s ability to exceed lowest common denominator fire safety standards will be compromised, as will consumer safety;

  • Plastics with HFRs are often preferable in terms of their recyclability, are valuable for energy and feedstock recovery and so are compatible with an integrated approach to waste management.

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.)

3.3 Mechanical Recycling

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.)

3.4 Feedstock Recycling

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.

3.5 Energy Recovery

Incineration tests, pyrolysis and combustion studies have demonstrated that waste from E&E equipment can be safely added to today’s 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.)

3.6 Conclusion

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

DG XI 2nd Draft Proposal

EBFRIP Comments

Article 3: Scope

3.1 This Directive shall cover the categories of electrical and electronic equipment falling under the categories set out in Annex I A, regardless of the date when this equipment was put on the market.


3.2 This Directive shall apply without prejudice to other Community legislation in particular as regards safety standards.

· The inclusion of historic waste means that E&E plastics protected with halogenated flame retardants (HFRs) will be part of the recovery chain for at least the next ten years. Any phase-out of HFRs will contradict the market incentive to recover these materials.


· As currently drafted, the Directive runs counter to the EU risk assessments under Regulation 793/93/EEC as concerns PBDE flame retardants. These risk assessments are due for completion in the second half of 1999. Preliminary conclusions do not point to any risk reduction measures for the PBDEs used in E&E equipment.

· While it is clear that legislation should not contravene existing safety standards, reliance on minimum fire safety standards has to be recognised as a minimalist approach to consumer safety.



Article 4: Measures to improve recycling

4.1 Member States shall encourage producers to minimise, as far as possible, the use of dangerous substances and preparations as well as the number of different types of plastics in the individual items.

4.4 Member States shall ensure that the use of lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and halogenated flame retardants is phased out by 1 January 2004.

The applications of lead, mercury, cadmium and halogenated flame retardant listed in Annex III are exempted from this provision.



· Most brominated flame retardants are not classified as dangerous and as waste are not hazardous from a practical and legal point of view.

· In any case, selection of material on the basis of their potential hazard as opposed to their actual risk is an approach which knows no end and ignores the benefits of individual materials.

· The choice of plastics is a complex process taking into account factors such as strength, appearance and recyclability as well as cost. To require Member States to encourage a reduction in plastics types ignores these material requirements and may even lead to the choice of less-easily recyclable materials. Identification of E&E plastics is becoming a reality through significant projects aimed at bringing this technology forward.

A phase-out of HFRs:

· ignores the wide chemical diversity of the different HFRs;

· contradicts the EU risk assessments of PBDEs under Regulation 93/793/EEC. In so doing, it undermines the EU risk assessment process and contradicts the preliminary conclusions on the PBDEs of relevance for E&E equipment;

· discourages the use of those plastics which are preferred from the point of view of recycling;

· removes any incentive for producers to become responsible for HFR plastics waste;

· ignores the fact that HFRs will continue to be a factor for E&E waste management for years to come in view of the amount already on the market (historic waste);

· compromises the ability of OEMs to specify plastics of the highest level of fire safety. Reliance on lowest common denominator standards prevents OEMs from adopting a precautionary approach towards fire safety.

Article 6: Pre-treatment and Treatment

6.2 Member States shall ensure that producers set up systems to provide for the pre-treatment of end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment that is separately collected and destined for landfilling, incineration or recovery. For the purposes of Article 4 of Directive 75/442/EEC this pre-treatment shall, as a minimum, include the removal of all fluids and a selective treatment according to Annex IV.


While for material recycling, pre-treatment in the form of separation may in many cases make sense, there is no obvious economic or environmental logic for separating E&E waste prior to their feedstock recycling, co-incineration/energy recovery or landfilling.

Article 7: Recovery

7.2 Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure that no later than 1 January 2004 the following targets are attained by producers:

7.2.c) for all separately collected end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment falling under category 1 (large household appliances) of Annex I A, the rate of component, material and substance re-use and recycling shall reach a minimum of 70% by weight of the appliances.

7.4 Without prejudice to paragraph 2 Member States shall also promote the recovery of energy from end of life electrical and electronic equipment


· While E&E plastics protected by brominated flame retardants are recyclable, reliance on material recycling in order to manage a large proportion of the E&E waste stream is short-sighted. It is inappropriate for an EU Directive to discourage the use of specific waste recovery solutions which may make more sense at the local level both from an economic and environmental point of view. Energy recovery of E&E plastics can make the best sense from an environmental and economic point of view and should therefore be encouraged through its inclusion under the future Directive’s targets.


nnex III: Applications of lead, mercury, cadmium and halogenated flame retardants which are exempted from Art. 4 par. 4

Halogenated flame retardants in those cases where the relevant fire standard can technically not be achieved through the use of other types of flame retardants

Without BFRs, OEM’s ability to exceed lowest common denominator fire safety standards will be compromised, as will consumer safety.
Annex IV: Selective Treatment for Materials and Components of Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment in accordance with Article 6

1) Components containing substances listed below have to be removed from any end of life electrical and electronic equipment which is destined for landfilling, incineration or recovery:

· Lead (except Lead in Cathode Ray Tubes

· Mercury

· Hexavalent Chromium

· Cadmium

· Polychlorinated Biphenyls

· Halogenated flame retardants

· Radioactive substances

· Asbestos

· Beryllium

These substances have to be disposed of or recovered in compliance with Article 4 of Council Directive 75/442/EEC

As under prior comments for Article 4(1): most brominated flame retardants are not classified as dangerous and as waste are not hazardous form a practical and legal point of view.

As under prior comments for Article 6: while for material recycling, pre-treatment in the form of separation may in many cases make sense, there is no obvious economic or environmental logic for separating E&E waste prior to their feedstock recycling, co-incineration/energy recovery or landfilling.

4. Fire Safety

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 industry’s 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:

  • uniquely effective flame retardant action;

  • ability to reach the highest levels of fire safety (as represented by UL 94 5VA);

  • compatibility with a wide range of polymers; and

  • suitability for recycling.

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:

  • OEMs would rely on minimum fire safety standards, which are sometimes inadequate and based on a lowest common denominator approach;

  • Some materials would no longer be able to be used for E&E applications without reducing fire safety levels;

  • OEMs would not be able to specify the highest fire safety standards.

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:

  • How is that only tetra-BDPE and penta-BDPE are being found in the environment when the main PBDEs used in Europe are the higher brominated compounds, octa-BDPE and deca-BDPE?

  • How could the use of PBDEs in electronic product plastics result in their findings in the environment and biota?

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.


  • The theory is that the higher PBDEs such as deca-BDPE debrominate to turn into the tetra-BDPE and the penta-BDPE found in the environment. This theory fails to explain how the deca-BDPE is emitted in significant quantities from its use in E&E plastics when it is bound in the polymer. Indeed the WHO recognised in its 1994 Environmental Health Criteria document on PBDEs that "(general population) exposure is very low since the Deca-BDE is not readily extracted from the polymers";

  • It is difficult to understand why deca-BDPE would only debrominate down to penta-BDPE and tetra-BDPE. If deca- (i.e. with ten bromine molecules) is debrominating, how come no nona-BDPE (9), octa-BDPE (8) and hepta-BDPE (7) are not found in the environment at all.

  • The low solubility of deca-BDPE and its general stability as a compound also argue against its possible debromination. (See Annex XXVIII: for a detailed toxicological analysis of deca-BDPE.)

  • The EU Risk Assessment process is due to complete a study on debromination in the second half of 1999 enabling the overall finalised Risk Assessment conclusions to be ready by the year-end.

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 4.4’s 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 XI’s 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:

  • No equal treatment: there appears to have been no attempt to assess the environmental or fire safety profile of alternative products to halogenated flame retardants;

  • Lack of necessary risk assessment: It is established under international trade rules that a substance ban must be based on a risk assessment of the product in question. The DG XI has not only failed to do this, it is actively trying to pre-empt the EU’s own risk assessment on the PBDEs scheduled for the second half of 1999;

  • Lack of proportionality: No consideration seems to have been given to less trade-restrictive measures in order to achieve the environmental objectives sought. The industry has already played its part in this respect by implementing a voluntary commitment with the OECD (e.g. by increasing the purity of its products).

The draft proposal’s mandatory percentage for recycled content raises similar trade barrier questions.

6.3 Socio-economic impact

CER (the UK’s 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.

Go To Top

read this post