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15 September 1998

EBFRIP statement regarding recent studies on flame retardants

Recent studies concerning brominated compounds have been reported with varying degree of accuracy in the press.  Mainstream press reports have ranged from the serious to the ridiculous, including attributing the use of brominated flame retardants in cars to the occurrence of car sickness and also the supposed "scrambling" of the brain to the non-existent use of brominated flame retardants in telephones.

Some of the recent studies, which have reported findings of certain polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in mammals and humans, raise important but as yet unanswered questions.  Serious and swift follow-up research is required in order to trace the sources of the substances found. The bromine chemical industry’s global organisation, the Bromine Science and Environment Forum (BSEF) has been in contact with study authors and is in the process of commissioning independent scientific institutes to take this work forward.  However, it is premature to conclude that the only possible origin of these compounds is from their use as flame retardants, in plastics.  For example, it is known that many organo-bromine compounds, including chemical precursors of brominated flame retardants, are naturally present in the marine environment.

These mainstream press reports have also failed to make it clear that in none of the studies was the major PBDE flame retardant, decabromodiphenyl ether, detected at all.  This fact alone demands that there be no rush to judgment on the future use of PBDEs as flame retardants.

What is needed is a clear understanding of the sources and significance of the substances found.  At the same time, it is essential to remember that flame-retarded products play an important role in today’s society. Brominated flame retardants have clear demonstrable benefits in terms of saving lives and protecting property from the effects of fire.