Worldwide Ban on HBCD Flame Retardant

Aug. 26, 2013
United Nations conference sets ban on the popular material used for insulation panels in buildings.

The flame retardant HBCD, or hexabromocyclododecane, may no longer be produced or used world-wide. HBCD was formerly used for many applications including insulation panels in buildings. About 20,000 tons have been produced worldwide every year.

This was decided by representatives from over 160 countries in late May at a United Nations conference on chemicals in Geneva. Empa, or Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, conducted extensive research on HBCDs which contributed to the new regulation under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

There has long been a reasonable suspicion that HBCDs were an environmental toxin that could harm fish and mammals. HBCDs are sufficiently fat soluble that they accumulate along the food chain and decompose in the environment so slowly that they can be transported over long distances. So far, HBCDs have even been detected in the Arctic, presumably by atmospheric transportation.

As flame-proofed textiles, carpets, plastics and electronic devices are mainly used indoors, it is not surprising that HBCDs also appear in house dust.

We pick up HBCDs not only through our contact with dust in our houses, but also by consuming high-fat animal foods. Cutting polystyrene panels with heated filaments releases HBCDs which then attach themselves to tiny plastic particles. These particles can also be inhaled and lead to an increase in HBCD exposure.

The resolution was formally passed on 9 May 2013 and comes into effect after a transition period of approximately one year. There is a five-year exception for polystyrene insulation used in buildings, according to the Health and Environment Alliance.

For more information visit Empa.

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