Sweden defiant over brominated flame retardants

Sweden’s environment ministry is sending a defiant message to Brussels by asking its national chemical inspectorate, KemI, to determine whether an overall ban on brominated flame retardants could be imposed in Sweden.

The country has been campaigning for a European wide ban on the substances, despite the European Parliament’s recent rejection of a broad ban on brominated products. Brominated flame retardants such as penta-brominated diphenylether (penta-BDE) are believed to be bioaccumulators and endocrine disrupters, but are widely used in laminates and insulation material. Penta-BDE has already been banned under a European agreement, but its sister chemicals, deca- and octa-BDE, are still undergoing risk assessments to determine whether they should also be banned.

As well as the recent debate in the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers’ are also carrying out an investigation into deca-and octa-BDE, which will be the basis for further legislation on brominated flame retardants under the ROHS Directive restricting the use of hazardous substances. The Directive comes into to force in 2006.

While Sweden continues to investigate a national ban on a range of brominated products, the electronics industry has successfully negotiated the exclusion from the ROHS Directive of tetrabromobisphenol, a brominate used in laminates for which there are only limited alternatives.

Availability, cost and effectiveness of alternatives may prove to be the pivot for change across Europe. The Danish Environmental Protection Agency issued a report in 1999 examining the commercially available alternatives to brominated flame retardants. But while phosphorus-based alternatives are being considered by the Nordic countries, a European wide enforced ban will have to pass Articles 28 and 30 in the EC Treaty concerning quantitative restrictions between member states. Tougher fire and safety legislation concerning flame retardant materials may also prove to be an obstacle.

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