German Environmental Protection Agency asks for phase out of decabromo diphenylether in electrical and electronic equipment

In a press release of 26 March 2007, the German Environmental Protection Agency (UBA) demands again the phasing out the flame retardant decabromo diphenylether (DecaBDE) in electrical and electronic equipment like computers and TV-sets. 

The European Union initially wanted to phase out all polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) and polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDE) -including DecaBDE - as of July 2006 according to the Directive 2002/95/EC "Restriction of certain Hazardous Substances in Electric and Electronic Equipment (RoHS)".

In the frame of the European Existing Chemicals Directive, in 2004, the Risk Assessment for DecaBDE which took 10 years was completed and no risk reduction measures were proposed. This was the reason why in autumn 2005, against the will of the European Parliament, the European Commission exempted DecaBDE from this restriction before it had come into force. The European Commission may allow exemptions to these restrictions, provided the use of substitutes is technically or scientifically not possible or if the substitutes are more harmful than the initially foreseen substance. According to UBA, both is not the case for DecaBDE, because it is persistent and accumulates in the environment and living organisms. In addition, there are hints that in the environment DecaBDE may partly degrade to the lower brominated and more toxic chemicals penta- and octabromodiphenylether. Denmark and the EU-Parliament are of the same opinion and question the legal basis for the exemption of DecaBDE from the restrictions by the European Commission, and have therefore launched a legal challenge to this Commission Decision in January 2006. 

The UBA points out that for many years a number of innovative companies phased out the use of DecaBDE, and some of them plan to replace all brominated flame retardants. Instead, they use e.g. certain halogenfree organic phosphorous compounds, magnesium and aluminium hydroxides, red phosphorous, metal phosphinates, nitrogen-containing flame retardants, or modified equipment design. In Germany, since 1986, members of the Plastics Producers Industry (VKE, now PlasticsEurope) voluntarily abandoned using DecaBDE.

Meanwhile in the USA, in the States of Washington and Maine, there are proposals for Acts relating to phasing out the use polybrominated diphenylethers including DecaBDE.