EPA Announces Safer Alternatives for Toxic Flame Retardants


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on June 12, 2014, safer alternatives to flame retardants currently used in consumer and commercial products, including building insulation and products with flexible polyurethane foam. According to EPA, flame retardant chemicals such as hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) and pentabromodiphenyl ether (pentaBDE) "raise concerns for human health and the environment including potential reproductive, developmental, and neurological effects and can be persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to aquatic organisms." EPA released the final report on alternatives to the flame retardant HBCD and an updated draft report on alternatives to the flame retardant pentaBDE. EPA notes that these alternatives were identified through its Design for the Environment (DfE) Alternatives Assessment Program. EPA's press release is available online.


Under the Existing Chemical Management Program, EPA issued an action plan for HBCD, calling for DfE to convene a multi-stakeholder alternatives assessment to help decision makers choose safer alternatives to HBCD. DfE states that participation of all interest groups in the alternatives assessment was aimed at ensuring that the full range of views was considered from the start of the project and that they were incorporated appropriately into the project objective and methodology. In its press release, EPA states that the DfE Program identified butadiene styrene brominated copolymer as a safer alternative to HBCD used in polystyrene building insulation and stated it is currently in commercial production in the U.S. The final report on alternatives to HBCD:

  • Identifies viable and non-viable flame retardant alternatives for HBCD in polystyrene building insulation foam;
  • Describes uses and provides an overview of end-of-life scenarios and exposure to HBCD;
  • Provides hazard profiles for HBCD and the three chemical alternatives; and
  • Provides an overview of relevant alternative materials.

The final assessment for Flame Retardant Alternatives for Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) is available online.


EPA states in its press release that the DfE Program identified oligomeric phosphonate polyol as a safer alternative to pentaBDE. According to EPA, the pentaBDE report "will help industry choose safer alternatives to meet product flammability standards for consumer products containing flexible polyurethane foam." In January 2013, DfE began updating its 2005 alternatives assessment for flame retardants used in polyurethane foam for furniture. The goal of the draft update, developed with stakeholders' input, is to present a review of both new and older flame retardants in this category and to help manufacturers of flexible foam products make informed decisions on flame retardants by providing a detailed comparison of the potential human health and environmental effects of chemical alternatives. The draft update is available for comment until August 11, 2014. DfE states that the draft update:

  • Identifies flame retardant chemicals used to meet fire safety requirements for upholstered consumer products containing flexible polyurethane foam (FPUF);
  • Updates the health and environmental profiles of commercial flame retardants that are still in commerce and that were evaluated in a 2005 report developed by the DfE Furniture Flame Retardancy Partnership (FFRP);
  • Includes the review of additional flame retardants used in upholstered polyurethane foam products or marketed for use in these products since 2005;
  • Includes information on current flame retardant standards; and
  • Addresses:
    • New data on pentaBDE alternatives;
    • New flame-retardant products for polyurethane foam; and
    • Updates to DfE's hazard criteria.

The draft update is available online.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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