Chemicals, Fire Safety

EPA Finds Unreasonable Risks for HBCD Flame Retardants

The EPA released a draft revised risk evaluation for the cyclic aliphatic bromide cluster (HBCD) in December 2021. HBCD is primarily used as a flame retardant in building materials like insulation, solder paste, recycled plastics, and automobile replacement parts.

“The final risk evaluation for HBCD found unreasonable risks to the environment for 6 out of 12 conditions of use. EPA found unreasonable risks to workers and occupational non-users from the use and disposal of HBCD in building and construction materials,” states the EPA HBCD website.

Under Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) 2016 amendments, the EPA is required to issue updated regulations for substances once unreasonable risks are found in order to reduce those risks. When the regulations are updated, the Agency could completely ban the chemicals, mandate personal protective equipment (PPE), or ban certain uses of the chemicals.

The unreasonable risk determination for HBCD is based on risks associated with the following conditions of use, considered individually or in combination with other exposures:

  • Importing;
  • Processing by incorporation into a formulation, a mixture, or reaction products;
  • Processing by incorporation into articles;
  • Processing by recycling of XPS and EPS foam, resin, and panels containing HBCD;
  • Commercial/consumer use through the installation of building and construction materials; and
  • Disposal.

“EPA will initiate risk management for HBCD by applying one or more of the requirements under TSCA section 6(a) to the extent necessary so that HBCD no longer presents an unreasonable risk,” states the EPA’s revised risk assessment.  “Under TSCA section 6(a), EPA is not limited to regulating the specific activities found to drive unreasonable risk and may select from among a suite of risk management options related to manufacture, processing, distribution in commerce, commercial use, and disposal in order to address the unreasonable risk. For instance, EPA may regulate upstream activities (e.g., processing, distribution in commerce) in order to address downstream activities driving unreasonable risk (e.g., use) even if the upstream activities are not unreasonable risk drivers.”

The EPA utilizes a “whole chemical approach” to better achieve TSCA’s objective of protecting health and the environment rather than making condition-of-use-specific risk determinations.

The Agency groups and evaluates flame retardants with similar characters to assist the Agency in more efficiently evaluating existing data and to support more informed decisions about data gaps and needs. The three chemicals in the HBCD cluster are:

  • hexabromocyclododecane
  • 1,2,5,6,9,10-hexabromocyclododecane
  • 1,2,5,6-tetrabromocyclooctane

“Through a literature search and data collection efforts, EPA obtained available information for each of these structurally similar chemical groups. Collected data included physical-chemical properties, environmental fate and transport, aquatic and mammalian toxicity, occurrence in humans and the environment, and use, market, and regulatory information,” according to the EPA Fact Sheet: Assessing Risks from Flame Retardants.

Comments on the draft revised risk assessment will be accepted until February 14, 2022.