Yang Et Al show phones not a significant source of flame retardant exposure

BSEF, the International Bromine Council, notes analytical results by Canadian researchers highlighting potential exposures to flame retardants from mobile phones. However, exposure data alone without risk assessment provides an incomplete picture.

BSEF, the International Bromine Council, represents the interests of major global producers of bromine and bromine technologies including brominated flame retardants (BFRs).

BFRs make a critical contribution to the safety of electrical and electronic equipment in everyday life, protecting property and consumers from the risk of fire or injury.  Their use in materials and products contributes to their overall safety (reduced propensity of material for ignition). This not only means a contribution to saving lives, but also products and property, thus preventing waste of resources

Recently, we have seen the results of a study by Yang et al[1] published as a letter in the Journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters in June 2020 entitled “Are we exposed to Halogenated Flame Retardants (HFRs) from Primary and Secondary Sources?” The article postulated that HFRs are transferred from older electronic and electrical equipment to handheld devices (e.g. mobile phones) and this is a source of secondary human exposure to flame retardant chemistries.

The authors did not characterize the risks associated with the exposures they measured. In our view, it is essential to understand the nature and magnitude of potential risks to human health to properly inform the public. “This is especially true with flame retardants which, have been demonstrated to stop ignition of flammable plastics used to make phones”, noted Dr Kevin Bradley, BSEF Secretary General.

In this study various FRs were detected at picogram (1/1,000,000,000,000 of a gram) per cm2 amounts on human palms.  Importantly these levels should not concern consumers as they are far lower than known safety thresholds. In one example DBDPE, an effective brominated flame retardant the concentration was 1,000,000 times lower.

To highlight this, BSEF scientists assessed Hazard Quotients (HQ) for all the brominated flame retardants cited in the study.  HQ is an accepted scientific measure scientists and regulators use to ensure the safety of chemicals in commerce.  A hazard quotient of 1 or lower a chemical exposure can be considered to have negligible human hazard.

“The results of our assessment are quite enlightening”, said Dr Bradley. “In every case, even using maximum exposure values, the HQs are less than 1, indicating no health risk from the presence of the FRs on the hands of consumers at the levels measured in this study”.

[1] Yang, c., Rozarka Jilkova, S., Melymuk, L., Harris, S.A., Jantunen, L.M., Pertili, J., Winn, L. & Diamond, M (2020). [add ref]


Further information:

BSEF, the International Bromine Council


About BSEF

BSEF – the International Bromine Council, is the global representative body for bromine producers and producers of bromine technologies. Originally founded in 1997, BSEF works to foster knowledge on the societal benefits of bromine and its applications. The members of BSEF are Albemarle Corporation, ICL Industrial Products, Lanxess and Tosoh.