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Brominated Flame Retardants To Be Voluntarily Phased Out

Release Date: 11/03/2003
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Environmental News

David Deegan 617-918-1017 /

(11/03/03) The Great Lakes Chemical Corp. of West Lafayette, Ind., will voluntarily cease production of two widely-used flame retardant chemicals by the end of 2004. The chemicals in question, Penta and Octa, are members of a group of chemicals called polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), which in turn are members of a broader class of chemicals called brominated flame retardants (BFRs). This announcement follows discussions with the Great Lakes Chemical Corp., the only U.S. manufacturer of Penta and one of a small number of Octa manufacturers.

“EPA commends Great Lakes Chemical Corp. for taking this action voluntarily and for doing so as expeditiously as possible,” said Stephen L. Johnson, EPA’s Acting Deputy Administrator. “The company’s decision to swiftly cease production of these chemicals by 2004 will accelerate the shift to safer alternatives. This is a responsible action that is likely to result in reduced amounts of these chemicals in the environment.”

Traces of Penta and Octa have been detected in both humans and wildlife. Based on potential concerns associated with the continued use of the chemicals, coupled with the development of a viable Penta substitute, the Great Lakes Chemical Corp. is taking action to phase out the manufacture of these chemicals. The Agency will work with the other U.S. manufacturers of Octa to seek their support for a complete phase out of that chemical as well. In addition, EPA may take additional steps to ensure that no new uses of Penta or Octa are allowed into the marketplace.

Brominated flame retardants are used in many consumer products. These chemicals provide a very important benefit to people because of their ability to slow ignition and rate of fire growth, and therefore increase available escape time in the event of a fire. Penta is primarily used in furniture foam and Octa in plastics for personal computers and small appliances.

EPA has not concluded that PBDEs pose an unreasonable risk to human health or the environment. Over the course of several years, EPA has evaluated scientific studies and available information, and there is growing evidence that the PBDE chemicals bioaccumulate and are persistent in the environment, and that people are being exposed. For example, traces of the chemicals have been found in fish, in samples of human blood and in women’s breast milk. The Agency will continue to assess available information which would allow a better understanding of any potential risks associated with PBDEs. EPA does not believe that there is a need to remove or replace products that may contain these chemicals.

EPA has recently completed a preliminary assessment of a Penta substitute, Firemaster® 550, and concluded that this alternative chemical is not persistent, bioaccumulative or toxic to aquatic organisms. The substitute also provides the important fire safety performance standards necessary for use in consumer products. The Agency will continue to work with Great Lakes and other companies on the development of substitutes, alternatives and additional health and exposure testing on the substitutes. EPA will also continue its efforts to gain a better scientific understanding of flame retardant chemicals.