Global electronics industry pushes back on Washington State’s unjustified draft rule on organohalogen flame retardants

The International Bromine Council (BSEF) has joined the chorus of criticism from the global electronics sector on a draft rule from Washington State, USA, that seeks to restrict the use of all organohalogen flame retardants (OFRs) in indoor electronic goods. BSEF criticized the draft rule for not recognizing the different hazard profiles of individual flame retardants as well as failing to consider the safety and suitability of alternative chemistries.

BSEF’s comments come as the governments of South Korea and China as well as a coalition of four Japanese electronics groups have criticized the draft measure due to its impact as an unnecessary barrier to global electronics trade and supply chains. They argue for an approach that differentiates between flame retardants and enables compliance, in line with the approach taken in other jurisdictions such as the European Union.

The draft rule proposed by Washington State’s Department of Ecology would restrict all OFRs in electric and electronic products intended for indoor use in 2025, 2026 and 2027 depending on the product concerned. In addition, it would see reporting requirements from January 2024 on outdoor electric and electronic products. The draft rule is currently under consultation with stakeholders.

BSEF argues that the draft rule lacks a sound scientific basis as it makes no distinction between the different hazard profiles of OFRs, some of which are not classified as hazardous. It also ignores the recommendation of the US National Academy of Sciences that OFRs cannot be seen as a single class of chemical due to differences in their chemical structures and properties. The rule would unnecessarily put consumers at risk as no consideration is given to the performance of different OFRs in preventing fire risks from electronics.  It does not consider the safety, availability, or performance of alternative chemistries, potentially leading to substitution with chemicals that are hazardous and less suitable for preventing fire risks. In some applications, there are no technical alternatives to certain OFRs leaving electronic manufacturers and consumers without options.

In comments submitted to the State’s Department of Ecology, BSEF called upon the State to reconsider its proposed rule, limiting its scope to those OFRs that pose a chemical risk and ensuring exemptions for critical applications such as lithium-ion batteries and cordless devices where no alternatives exist.

Michael Hack, Secretary General of BSEF, stated “Regulatory decisions need to be informed by science and put consumer safety first. This unprecedented, proposed action by Washington State contradicts the recommendations of the US National Academy of Sciences and the approach taken by regulators globally. It creates uncertainty for the global electronics sector and may do more harm than good for a consumer safety perspective.”