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Press release on Chemicals

Brominated flame retardants: guardian angels with a bad streak?

Flame retardants save lives, for they can prevent fires. Many manufacturers therefore make use of these substances in electrical and electronic devices, insulation materials, or textiles.  However, some of these would-be lifesavers are not entirely benign. It is brominated flame retardants in particular which can spread into the environment or accumulate in the food chain or in the human being. The commonly used flame retardants Decabromodiphenyl ether (DecaBDE) and Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) have been traced in breast milk, fish, birds’ eggs, and polar bears. HBCD is highly toxic for aquatic organisms. There is concrete evidence that DecaBDE does long-term neurotoxic damage and degrades slowly into less brominated, more toxic compounds. ”I am particularly concerned about the wide-ranging spread of DecaBDE and HBCD. Chemicals that accumulate in the human body or animals’ do not belong in the environment”, said Prof. Dr. Andreas Troge, President of the Federal Environment Agency (UBA). There are sensible alternatives to many brominated flame retardants, without foregoing safety. They include completely different materials such as textiles made of glass fibres, less harmful flame retardants such as magnesium hydroxide, or certain halogen-free phosphorus-organic flame retardants. Use of these alternatives is both technically and economically feasible. A new background paper published by UBA presents the key facts on brominated flame retardants. read more

The Umweltbundesamt

For our environment