EU Lawmakers Vote Broad Fire Retardant Ban

STRASBOURG, France, September 6, 2001 (ENS) - The European Parliament Wednesday took an unexpectedly tough stance on the future of three brominated flame retardants. Members of the European Parliament approved a European Commission proposal to ban penta-BDE. They voted to extend it to cover two other substances, octa-BDE and deca-BDE, against the Commission's advice and furious opposition from industry which claims the chemicals are crucial to the control of fires.

The outcome of the vote came as a surprise, according to parliamentary sources, who said that Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) had not been expected to support certain amendments put forward by the assembly's Environment Committee.

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European Parliament (Photo courtesy European Parliament)
Key among these were bans on the flame retardants octa-BDE and deca-BDE. The MEPs voted to approve the bans despite the fact that European Union risk assessments for the two substances have not yet been completed.

In the event, MEPs did support the committee's recommendations to ban the two substances. They agreed that octa-BDE should be banned alongside penta-BDE from July 1, 2003, and deca-BDE should be prohibited from January 1, 2006 unless the results of risk assessments show this not to be necessary.

Brominated flame retardants are suspected of having harmful effects on health and the environment. The substances, such as polybrominated biphenyls, are additives used in plastic and rubber manufacturing and are found in computers, TV sets and cars. The substances are persistent and are to be found in the environment for years.

In 1999, a Swedish government commission, the National Chemicals Inspectorate, found that, "The lower-brominated technical PBDE compounds, containing mostly pentaBDE, are persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic in the aquatic environment. They show effects above all on the liver but also on thyroid hormone and affect the behaviour of mice. They occur widely in the environment, in human blood and in motherīs milk."

"The highly brominated compounds included in technical octaBDE and decaBDE are persistent, have effects on reproduction and can cause tumour formation in the liver," the commission found.

Justifying a decision now to ban the two extra BDEs despite ongoing risk assessments, MEPs invoked the precautionary principle and what they called an "international consensus" on the seriousness of the substances' impacts.

The parliament also voted for zero tolerance of penta-BDE residues in products, agreeing that a 0.1 percent residue limit in products should apply rather than the European Commission's proposed five percent.

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Fire that started in a garage in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy Freefoto.com )
At the end of the 1980s, Germany proposed a ban on PBDEs and PBBs. The proposal was withdrawn because it was not felt to be feasible within the European Union. Subsequently Germany imposed regulations on PBDEs and PBBs by means of the Dioxin Ordinance. Since dioxins can be formed in the production of flame-retarded plastic, the requirements of the ordinance lead indirectly to a restriction of PBDE and PBB use.

Denmark and the Netherlands have also made moves to ban brominated fire retardants.

In a declaration of intent in 1989, the chemicals industry and plastic manufacturers in Germany declared that they would neither produce nor use PBDEs. PBDE production has ceased in Germany, but PBDEs continue to be used, both as a chemical product and in imported products.

Penta-, octa- and decaBDE are being investigated under the European Union program for existing substances. The UK has drawn up risk assessment proposals for pentaBDE and, together with France, for octa-and decaBDE. The British and French proposals for these commercial mixtures are currently being discussed at European Community level.

Swedish National Chemicals Inspectorate study on brominated flame retardants: http://www.kemi.se/aktuellt/pressmedd/1999/990312_eng.htm

The Bromine Science and Environment Forum provides links to a range of related websites at: http://www.bsef.com/

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