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World sees the light and bans HBCD. US stays in the dark.

September 3, 2013

In a historic decision, over 100 governments from around the world have agreed to list HBCD (hexabromocyclododecane) for global elimination. This ban means you can’t produce it, use it, import it or export it. The ban takes full effect by August 2015.

Just as important, countries voted against allowing the recycling of HBCD products, and new building insulation that contains HBCD will require labeling. The goal is to prevent HBCD-containing products from being disposed of improperly or illegally dumped.

As reported by Science Codex (“science news and nothing but science news”):

Since the 1980s, HBCDs have been used as a flame retardant in plastics, textiles, furniture, electronics and insulation materials. About 20,000 tons have been produced worldwide every year, mostly for polystyrene panels used for building insulation. Each cubic metre of extruded polystyrene contained up to one kilogram of HBCDs.

There has long been a reasonable suspicion that HBCDs were an environmental toxin … It was the task of UN experts to assess whether HBCDs met the criteria defined in the Stockholm Convention on POPs.

Ultimately, the findings were unequivocal. 30 years after they were first produced industrially and used around the world, the expert committee of the Stockholm Convention has classified HBCDs as POPs and thus laid the foundations for a global ban.

The Stockholm Convention is dedicated to protecting human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants (POPs). What about the US? US representatives attended the most recent conference but the US is not a signatory to the treaty or party to the conference, and is not bound by its decisions.

Notably, the US EPA’s Action Plan for HBCD states:

HBCD is found world-wide in the environment and wildlife. It is also found in human breast milk, adipose tissue, and blood. It bioaccumulates in living organisms and biomagnifies in the food chain. It is persistent in the environment and is transported long distances. HBCD is highly toxic to aquatic organisms. It also presents human health concerns based on animal test results indicating potential reproductive, developmental and neurological effects.

So what is the EPA actually doing about HBCD? Very little. Read here and you might agree the term “action plan” is a stretch.

Years ago GSP’s Arlene Blum predicted, “When HBCD is phased out, and it will be, two questions remain: are the replacements safer and what about all the HBCD in buildings today?” One proposed replacement for HBCD in polystyrene insulation is yet another environmentally persistent, brominated flame retardant, Chemtura’s Emerald Innovation 3000. Chemtura’s facility in Arkansas is expected to produce upwards of 22 million pounds of Emerald 3000 every year. Yet there is no need for HBCD or Emerald 3000 or other similarly harmful substitutions because safer alternatives exist. Read about the Safer Insulation Solution. The question of what to do with the HBCD already in circulation remains open.

In response to nearly global rejection of their product, Chemtura/Great Lakes Solutions just announced a price hike for HBCD. Priceless.