New flame retardants – as bad as the old?

illustration photo: fireThe Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) is investigating the extent to which we are exposed to these new compounds.

The “new” substances include persistent brominated and chlorinated compounds, but also phosphoric acid-based compounds that degrade easily.

Several of these new compounds have already been detected in various environmental samples and wildlife – not only in polluted areas, but also in the Arctic. However, little is known about the levels of the new flame retardants in humans.

“These new compounds received a lot of attention at a major international environmental conference in Texas recently. The NIPH has worked with brominated flame retardants for a long time and has now begun research on the substitute compounds. We are participating in a large EU funded project,” said senior researcher Catherine Thomsen.

About flame retardants

Flame retardants are used extensively in a variety of consumer products such as textiles, electrical and electronic equipment and various plastic products to prevent or limit fire. The most commonly used compounds are tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and hexabromcyclododecane (HBCD).

The latter two groups of compounds have long been in the spotlight because of their adverse environmental and health properties. Production and use of these compounds is prohibited in Norway and the EU. In several other countries, processes have begun that will lead to a ban.

The new compounds are partially brominated compounds related to PBDEs, but also polychlorinated substances and they all appear to persist in the environment. In contrast, phosphoric acid-based compounds degrade relatively easily but exposure to such substances over long periods can also be hazardous to health.

The NIPH is participating in the EU project:
“Indoor Contamination with Flame Retardant Chemicals: Causes and Impacts” (INFLAME), which is a Marie Curie Initial Training Network (ITN) under the EU’s 7th Indoor Framework Programme.