Are Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs) Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)?

Contrary to misrepresentations, only one of the brominated flame retardants commercially available from BSEF member companies is listed as being a POP.

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are chemicals which would meet the fourcriteria as defined by the United Nations:

  • Persistency,
  • Bioaccumulation,
  • Adverse Effects (either environmental or human health e.g. toxicity),
  • and potential for Long Range Environmental Transport.

Two brominated flame retardants that have been banned in the European Union (commercial Penta-BDE and commercial Octa-BDE) were voluntarily phased out by BSEF member companies in 2004 or earlier, are listed as POPs. . In May 2013, the decision was taken to list HBCD as a POP with specific exemptions for production and use in expanded polystyrene (EPS) and extruded polystyrene (XPS) in buildings.Commercial Deca-BDE has been nominated and the review begins in October 2013.

Equally, most brominated flame retardants are not PBT (Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic) substances since they do not fulfil all of the three criteria. Brominated flame retardants have to be persistent in order to perform their function of fire resistance over long periods of time (e.g. over 30 years for insulation foams inside buildings).

Are Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs)...

... Persistent?

Yes, most brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are persistent, but persistence in itself is harmless. For example, a stone is persistent as it will not degrade in the environment.

Brominated flame retardants are designed to maintain the fire safety properties over the whole lifetime of the product they protect. Therefore, persistence is an essential requirement of their properties.

These properties also allow for good recyclability of these products, since the brominated flame retardants remain stable during the recycling process.

... Bio-accumulative?

Bioaccumulative substances may build up in the food chain. Most BFRs are not bioaccumulative as demonstrated by studies including Risk Assessment reports. For more information on BFRs click here.

... Toxic?

The toxicity profile of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) is relatively well understood. For more information on the environment and health properties of brominated flame retardants, please click here.

... Transported in the environment over long ranges?

Most brominated flame retardants (BFRs) do not undergo long-range environmental transport. Two independent studies have assessed the potential of selected brominated flame retardants for long-range transport (LRT). The results indicate that some of the most commonly used brominated flame retardants – Deca-BDE and TBBPA - have a very limited potential for long-range environmental transport.