Pat Quinn, Governor
Report on Alternatives to the Flame Retardant DecaBDE: Evaluation of Toxicity, Availability, Affordability, and Fire Safety Issues
A Report to the Governor and the General Assembly
Executive Summary and Recommendations
In 2006, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Agency) issued A Report to the General Assembly and the Governor in Response to Public Act 94-100, “DecaBDE Study: A Review of Available Scientific Research.” This report presented the Agency’s findings on five issues raised in Public Act 94-100 regarding the flame retardant chemical Decabromodiphenyl ether (DecaBDE). The Agency found that DecaBDE is bioaccumulating in the environment and that levels are increasing in some samples. We also found that humans are exposed to DecaBDE, mainly from the diet, workplace, and home. We were not able to fully determine what health effects could result from exposure, whether DecaBDE breaks down into more harmful chemicals, and if safer alternatives are available that still maintain fire safety, due to uncertainties from insufficient data. Regarding these last three issues, we were able to report that liver, thyroid, reproductive/developmental, and neurological effects are the most important effects seen in animal studies with DecaBDE and other polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs); that DecaBDE breaks down to other chemicals under some conditions; and that effective alternatives exist for most DecaBDE uses but their toxicity databases contain gaps.
In response to this report, Governor Blagojevich sent a letter to the Agency requesting a follow-up study to answer the critical issues remaining from the 2006 report, and to determine whether safer and affordable alternatives to DecaBDE are available that still meet fire protection standards. The following provides the Agency’s findings and recommendations regarding potential replacements for DecaBDE’s uses.
In this report, we have updated significant issues that were found to have insufficient information in our 2006 report, reviewed the toxicity data for selected alternatives to DecaBDE, and assessed the affordability and availability of DecaBDE alternatives. These topics are summarized as follows.
Update of significant issues – In our 2006 report, we were not able to fully answer whether DecaBDE breaks down into more harmful chemicals, what health effects could result from exposure to DecaBDE, and whether DecaBDE alternatives were available that are safer than DecaBDE and still meet fire protection standards. Since issuing the 2006 report we have reviewed additional information regarding these issues, and now find:
Toxicity of DecaBDE alternatives – There are a number of ways to flame-retard for products that do not require chemicals and for which toxicity is not a concern. Examples include redesigning products to be less fire-prone, and the use of inherently fire-resistant fibers and light-weight metals. For a description of such DecaBDE alternatives, see Section 6 of the 2006 DecaBDE report.
With respect to chemical alternatives, we evaluated those which are currently in widespread use or are expected to be in the future. We developed a scoring approach that ranked the health and environmental effects data for chemical alternatives to DecaBDE as being of high, moderate, low, or no concern, and then grouped them into “bins” of overall level of concern: Potentially Unproblematic, Potentially Problematic, Insufficient Data, and Not Recommended. There is insufficient toxicity data available for the alternatives to say with certainty that they pose little or no risk and are therefore “safe” to use as flame retardants. However, some of the chemical alternatives do appear to be safer than DecaBDE.
Affordability and availability of DecaBDE alternatives – In order to gauge the relative affordability and availability of DecaBDE alternatives, the Agency undertook a widespread review of information relevant to these issues including direct contact with several electronics and transportation industry trade groups/associations, product manufacturers, and large retailers. Based on our evaluations, it appears that there are only a few current DecaBDE uses for which the alternatives still have affordability and/or availability concerns, while there are many uses/products for which a phase-out of DecaBDE is substantially complete or is in progress. Our findings include:
From the findings discussed above, the Agency now believes there is reason for concern regarding the continued use of DecaBDE in many products. This concern is based on:
Because of these concerns and the fact that a significant number of alternatives are affordable, available and have better toxicity rankings than DecaBDE, the Agency recommends that the Governor support a managed state-level phase-out of several DecaBDE’s uses. This approach should include the following elements:
In addition, the State should:
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