TetraBDE and pentaBDE

Alternatives are available and used to replace these substances in many countries, although they might also have adverse effects on human health and the environment. Alternatives might not be available for use in military airplanes. The identification and also handling of equipment and wastes containing brominated diphenyl ethers is considered a challenge.

Note that following information is extracted from the risk management evaluation document (UNEP-POPS-POPRC.3-20-Add.1)

With the phasing out of C-PentaBDE in important markets, manufacturers are actively identifying alternatives. Some companies, such as IKEA, have already phased out all C-PentaBDE globally. Another factor encouraging the development of alternatives is the fact that many governments and large corporations have developed green procurement guidelines that prohibit the use of PBDEs in electronic products.

Information on alternatives to C-PentaBDE already in use has been reported by companies, in a regional survey in US (Washington State 2006). The alternatives identified in this process are listed in Table 3.1 in UNEP/POPS/POPRC.3/INF/23. The human health or environmental impacts of these alternatives have not been investigated by the authors. For example, hexabromocyclododecane, an alternative for C-PentaBDE in coatings and adhesives, is not a preferable alternative. This compound already causes concern because of its chemical properties in several countries and regions. RPA (2000) suggests that only tetrabromobenzoate (TBBE) and chlorinated alkyl phosphate esters, tris (2-chloroisopropyl) phosphate (TCPP) in particular, followed by phosphate esters, are relevant chemical alternatives to PentaBDE. However, since that time other alternatives may have been developed and commercialized and should also be considered. Given the range of alternative flame retardants available, a wise course would be to examine the manufacturing processes, evaluate the use of synthetic materials, and give preference to those that pose least risk.

Alternatives to C-PentaBDE in PUR foam

The US EPA Design for the Environment completed an assessment of alternatives to C-PentaBDE in PUR which was released in September 2005 (US EPA, 2005). The agency has established a Furniture Flame Retardancy Partnership with a broad set of stakeholders to assess environmentally safer chemical alternatives to C-PentaBDE and to investigate other technologies for improving furniture fire safety. Leading US flame-retardant chemical manufacturers identified 14 chemical formulations that are viable substitutes for C-PentaBDE in large-scale production of low-density flexible polyurethane foam (see table 3.2 in UNEP/POPS/POPRC.3/INF/23). The identified alternatives are drop-in replacement chemicals for C-PentaBDE, compatible with existing process equipment at foam manufacturing facilities, and therefore cost-effective. Some chemicals other than these fourteen formulations are currently used for other types of foam and in niche markets for low-density polyurethane foam. The chemicals are used to flame retard high-density, flexible polyurethane foam.

Three of the most commonly used chemicals that various reports have suggested may be more environmental and viable alternatives to C-PentaBDE are melamine, tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCPP) (or TCPP) and ammonium polyphosphate (APP). Flame retardants based on melamine are currently used in flexible polyurethane foams, intumescent coatings (those which swell on heating and thus provide some measure of flame retardancy), polyamides and thermoplastic polyurethanes. They are used effectively in Europe in high-density flexible polyurethane foams but require 30 to 40 percent melamine per weight of the polyol. TDCPP is a chlorinated phosphate ester that is often used in polyurethane foam formulations. It is used in high-density foam and has been used in low-density foams when light scorching (discoloration) is not a primary concern. APP, an additive flame retardant, is currently used to provide flame retardancy in flexible and rigid polyurethane foams, as well as in intumescent laminations, moulding resins, sealants and glues. However, chemical manufacturers and foam manufacturing trade groups do not consider it to be an alternative for C-PentaBDE on a large scale.

Non-chemical alternatives to C-PentaBDE in PUR foam

Non-chemical alternatives have also been identified by the US EPA (2005). Three currently available, alternative technologies for flame retarding furniture include barrier technologies, graphite impregnated foam and surface treatment. Graphite impregnated foam and surface treatments have limited commercial uses. Barrier technologies are predominantly used in mattress manufacturing rather than residential upholstered furniture, but may have further applications.

In addition, it should be noted that some furniture designs exclude the use of filling materials, and even fabric altogether. Design therefore, should be considered when evaluating alternative means for achieving flame retardancy in furniture.

Alternatives to C-PentaBDE in EE-appliances

As of mid-November 2005, a number of big manufacturers were phasing out all PBDEs. Manufacturing firms expects increased costs due to compliance with the EU ban on use of hazardous chemicals in EE-appliances, including C-PentaBDE among a range of other substances. Among the world producers of EE-appliances 35% expect the price of their products to increase by less than 5%, another 23% of the producers expect an increase between 5 and 10%; 6% of the producers expect prices to increase by more than 10% (Environmental International Reporter, 2006). Examples of alternative flame retardants processes currently being utilized include; bromine-free circuit boards (Sony), phosphorus-based flame retardants for printed circuit boards (Hitachi), flame resistant plastic (Toshiba), halogen-free materials and low-voltage internal wires (Panasonic/Matsushita) (Norwegian EPA, 2003). Leisewitz et al. (2000) says that no problems should arise from the use of zinc borate, magnesium hydroxide or expandable graphite as alternatives to the brominated flame retardants.

Alternatives for C-PentaBDE in textiles

There are bromine-free flame retardant alternatives for use in textiles (see table 3.3 in UNEP/POPS/POPRC.3/INF/23). Some of them, such as antimony trioxide and borax, are not environmentally sound. There are also durable flame retardant materials, such as wool and polyester fibres. Some manufacturers claim that a ban on the use of C-PentaBDE in textiles will give poorer quality and durability of the textile.

For further information, please refer to 

  • UNEP/POPS/POPRC.5/10/Add.1 – General guidance on considerations related to alternatives and substitutes for listed persistent organic pollutants and candidate chemicals
  • UNEP/POPS/POPRC.3/INF/23 - Other information related to uses and data sources provided by the intersessional working group on commercial pentabromodiphenyl ether
  • UNEP/POPS/COP.7/INF/22 - Revised draft guidance on best available techniques and best environmental practices for the recycling and waste disposal of articles containing polybrominated diphenyl ethers listed under the Stockholm Convention
  • Risk profile Ar, Ch, En, Fr, Ru, Sp (PDF)
  • Risk management evaluation Ar, Ch, En, Fr, Ru, Sp (PDF)