Danes join push for EU flame retardants action

Work kicks off on drawing up national action plan after "most exhaustive ever" study published

Denmark is to join Sweden in urging international action to curb the use of brominated flame retardants (BFRs). The countries will call for EU environment ministers to debate the issue at their next formal meeting in December, ENDS Daily has learned.

The development came as the Danish environmental protection agency (EPA) started work to draft a national plan on controlling BFRs on Friday. The agency simultaneously published what officials say is the most exhaustive-ever national survey analysing the flow of such substances and assessing possible substitutes for specific applications. This found that the major source of BFRs lost to the environment in Denmark is evaporation from products in use, and underlined previous concerns about possible harm due to bioaccumulation.

"Very positive" initial discussions have already been held with national industry and retail federations on phasing out or regulating use of certain BFRs, an EPA official told ENDS Daily. An overview study on possible alternatives is due for completion by the end of the year, in time to be incorporated into the draft action plan due for publication in early 2000. BFRs will be proposed for inclusion in the next phase of Denmark's integrated products policy early next year (ENDS Daily 14 January). Waste management and human safety aspects will also be scrutinised carefully.

Given the relatively low presence of BFRs in domestically manufactured products, Danish officials are tending to the view that a ban at national level would be ineffective. This mirrors the experience of Sweden, which earlier this year announced that it was contemplating banning the sale and use of PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ether) and PBB (polybrominated biphenyl).

Following an extensive hearing period over the summer involving contributions from NGOs and industry, officials now say they feel that Swedish manufacturers have "done a lot" to phase out harmful BFRs and international action might be more appropriate (ENDS Daily 15 March). A final decision is expected within a month.

This helps to explain Sweden and Denmark's desire for a concerted push to develop a stronger EU legislative approach incorporating the precautionary principle, building on work already in progress under the existing substances regulation. A risk assessment being prepared by the UK and due for release early next year, for example, is understood to recommend that action be taken to curb the use of one of the older compounds, penta BDE (brominated diphenyl ether).

Follow Up:
Danish EPA, tel: +45 32 66 01 00; Swedish environment ministry, tel: + 46 8 405 1000. References: "Brominated Flame Retardants: Substance Flow Analysis and Assessment of Alternatives" is posted on the Danish EPA web site in English only.

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