Flame retardant makers fire up defences

European industry to launch pilot recycling schemes, pledges environmentally sound waste management

Under a growing threat of legislative restrictions, European manufacturers of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are fighting back with plans to show that bromine can be recovered from BFR-treated plastics, and that treated plastics can also be recycled. Coordinated by the Brussels-based Bromine Science and Environment Forum (BSEF), the sector hopes to launch pilot recycling plants soon, forum chairman Michael Spiegelstein said yesterday.

Studies commissioned by the BSEF from the GfA laboratory and Erlangen university in Germany have, according to Dr Spiegelstein, shown that plastics containing BFRs were fully recyclable. The flame retardants were able to withstand at least five recycling operations, without any releases of dioxins or furans to the air.

BFRs are persistent and bioaccumulative chemicals that should be phased out, according to some EU governments, notably Sweden and Denmark (ENDS Daily 8 November). The EU has also taken action against them under the European ecolabelling scheme and is likely to propose a much broader ban on their use in electrical and electronic equipment under the forthcoming electroscrap directive. Some industry groups, particularly American, have described this trend as likely to lead to a new trade war between the USA and the EU.

Dr Spiegelstein appealed for "scientifically based decisions" on BFRs and said that the industry was aiming "to come with a programme to satisfy end-of-life groups on energy recovery, bromine and some other additives."

The BSEF and its sister organisation the European Brominated Flame Retardant Industry Panel (EBFRIP) maintain that the types of BFRs used in electrical and electronic products are "fully compatible" with this "new era of waste recovery," and believe this will be borne out by the current EU risk assessment process due for completion next spring.

The industry is also eager to rebut recent Swedish claims that traces of PBDE found in human breast milk had come from the degradation of so-called "higher compounds" of deca or octa PBDE, which are in widespread use, to the "lower" penta form which manufacturers accept are "a candidate for risk reduction measures." The BSEF argues that the penta PBDE found in milk accumulated from its "historic" use in offshore oil drilling in the north Sea in the early 1990s and as a hydraulic fluid by the German coal mining industry.

Follow Up:
BSEF, tel: +32 2 733 9370; EBFRIP, tel: +32 2 676 7240.

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