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Global ban of flame retardant HBCD

Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), a common highly toxic flame retardant used in insulation, textiles, and electronics has been added to the list of chemicals banned worldwide. The decision came at a meeting of delegates to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

HEAL welcomes the decision to phase out HBCD and prohibit the recycling of products containing it, which could otherwise cause serious damage to public health. HBCD now joins two other such compounds on the convention’s list, although there is still a five year exemption for the use of HBCD in expanded and extruded polystyrene.

According to the convention’s description of HBCD, this flame retardant is made in the USA, Europe, and Asia. In 2001, about half of the 16,500 tons on the market was used in Europe. In Europe it is used in building insulation, where polystyrene insulation constitutes approximately 30% of the use. By 2003, global demand had risen to nearly 22,000 tons. The half life of the chemical is approximately 50 years.

HBCD is now on the list of pollutants countries must work to eliminate. For the EU, it had already been identified it as a substance of very high concern in REACH with a scheduled phase out by 2015. This Stockholm Convention ban is a good step forward and will help prevent further new uses being found for it.

However some environment groups were disappointed that the chemical was granted a 5 year exception for polystyrene insulation in buildings, albeit with new labelling requirements to ensure the chemical is clearly identifiable in whatever products contain it. Companies that make HBCD for this insulation must also notify the convention of their use.

Originally posted on 7 June 2013

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