Swedish institute proposes brominated flame retardants ban

Concentrations of brominated flame retardants in mother's milk have doubled since 1992 and with a voluntary phase-out failing to get results, it is time to ban PBDE and PBB, says the Swedish Chemicals Inspectorate.

In 1998 the Swedish National Chemicals Inspectorate (KemI) was commissioned by the Government to investigate how best to phase out the brominated flame retardants PBDE and PBB.

On 15 March 1999, KemI submitted a proposal to prohibit the use of PBDE and PBB.

PBDE is not manufactured in Sweden but is imported and used in rubber cables for instance. The largest amounts are contained in imported electronic components and included in, for example, computers, television sets and cars.

Before 1990, PBDE was also used in Swedish textiles. Today, it may occur in imported textiles and upholster furniture. PBB is not manufactured in Sweden, but may be included in imported products containing electronics.

These flame retardants are particularly difficult to trace. A questionnaire aimed at mapping where PBDE and PBB are used was sent out by KemI to 200 companies. Only one in three companies responded, and many did not know if their products contained flame retardants or not. Components wrapped in plastic treated with flame retardant are often manufactured in South East Asia.

Voluntary efforts not enough

As early as in 1990 the Government decided on a phase-out. Voluntary efforts from branch organisations and companies have been going on for several years and good results have been made. Having considered the effects, however, KemI has come to the conclusion that voluntary efforts only are not enough for the use to stop.

Consequently, it is proposing that Sweden introduce a prohibition against marketing and use of PBDE and PBB and prohibit the marketing of goods containing these substances. It also recommends that Sweden should also work for a prohibition within the EU and make additional efforts to achieve a change on the international market.

PBDE = polybrominated diphenyl ethers
PBB= polybrominated biphenyls

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