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EU One Step Closer to Future Restriction of Flame Retardant Decabde in Articles

On 15 September 2015, The European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA’s) Committee for Socio-economic Analysis (SEAC) adopted its final opinion on an ECHA proposal to restrict the use of bis(pentabromophenyl) ether, more commonly known as DecaBDE, and articles containing DecaBDE in concentrations greater than 0.1%.

DecaBDE has been identified as a Substance of Very High Concern (SVHC) and can be described as a persistent, bio-accumulative and/or toxic chemical (PBT) substance that is used as a flame retardant. It is said to have applications in many different sectors. In general, it serves to decrease the likelihood of a fire occurring and to decrease a range of undesirable consequences when a fire occurs.

DecaBDE is used in plastics and textiles that are part of many consumer goods, making the proposed restriction potentially relevant to several Hong Kong and Chinese mainland manufacturers exporting to the EU.

In plastics, DecaBDE is used in electrical and electronic equipment (EEE), in the transportation sector (e.g. automotive and aviation industries), and in construction and building (e.g. for wires, cables, and pipes). In the textile sector, DecaBDE can be used to treat a wide range of synthetic, blended and natural fibres. Main end uses are upholstery, window blinds, curtains, mattress textiles, tents and transport.

Notwithstanding the widespread use of DecaBDE in many different sectors, exposure to it is said to give rise to specific concerns based on its potential to accumulate in the environment and to cause effects that are unpredictable in the long-term, which are moreover difficult to reverse, even after emissions have ceased.

ECHA further explains in its report that information from environmental monitoring has shown that DecaBDE occurs widely both in the environment and in wildlife. In addition, exposure to DecaBDE and lower brominated substances that are formed as they degrade in the environment may result in neurotoxicity in mammals, including humans. Exposure to DecaBDE in humans (including prenatal exposure) and the environment is felt to be widespread, creating a high potential for long-term exposure to both DecaBDE and its lower brominated PBDE (Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether) transformation products.

For these reasons, DecaBDE was already added to the REACH Candidate List as an SVHC in December 2012. In May 2013, Norway submitted a proposal to add it to the Stockholm Convention for Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). Subsequently, the European Commission asked ECHA to prepare a REACH restriction proposal for this substance.

The aim of ECHA’s restriction proposal is to effectively reduce environmental exposure to DecaBDE in the EU. According to ECHA, the restriction is the most appropriate Union-wide measure, in terms of the proportionality of its socio-economic benefits to its socio-economic costs, because it allows the elimination of all emissions and related exposures of DecaBDE for both humans and the environment.

The scope of the proposed restriction is threefold. It would restrict the manufacturing, use and placing on the market of DecaBDE:

  • as a substance,
  • as a constituent of other substances, or in mixtures, if the concentration is equal or greater than 0.1% by weight,
  • in articles containing DecaBDE in concentrations greater than 0.1% by weight.

After the end of the public consultation period, the ECHA Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) and SEAC adopted, on 15 and 16 June 2015 respectively, their draft opinions supporting ECHA’s proposal. Then, on 15 September 2015, SEAC adopted its final opinion confirming its draft version. In addition, having considered the 14 comments received during the public consultation, SEAC supported additional derogations for military aircraft, road vehicles, spare parts for machinery and agricultural and forestry vehicles. 

One week before that, on 8 September 2015, green groups called on the European Commission to also ban the recycling of materials containing DecaBDE. They are concerned that a possible loophole will give the banned chemical a second life in consumers’ homes. ECHA and the Stockholm Convention on POPs Review Committee will address this issue in the coming weeks.

Since July 2008, DecaBDE has been restricted for use in EEE under the EU Directive on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in EEE (RoHS).

If the proposed restriction is adopted by the European Commission, the development could be particularly relevant to Hong Kong and other exporters to the EU, as DecaBDE has not been manufactured in the EU since 1999. Consequently, the tonnages of DecaBDE used in the EU are imported from outside the continent.

In addition, the restriction is particularly relevant for Hong Kong manufacturers and sellers of products containing DecaBDE, since the proposal also aims to ban articles containing DecaBDE in concentrations greater than 0.1% by weight.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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