In a surprising development, Dow Chemical’s Styrofoam brand extruded polystyrene (XPS) insulation has been awarded Cradle to Cradle Silver certification by McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC). When asked about the styrene chemistry and brominated flame retardant in XPS, Steve Bolton, the manager of business development at MBDC, explained that the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) product evaluation is the same for every product. “We look at everything from material health to recyclability,” he told
, adding that the company also examines energy use at the manufacturing plant, water quality issues, and corporate social responsibility.
As for brominated flame retardants, Bolton said that these chemicals “are definitely a concern,” but that at the lower certification levels (Basic and Silver) these compounds can be present, as long as there are plans to improve the products over time. (XPS contains the brominated flame retardant HBCD—see
EBN Aug. 2009
.) At the Gold level, red-listed chemicals, such as brominated flame retardants, are not permitted, according to Bolton.
“It is shocking that a product containing a persistent organic pollutant such as HBCD can be considered green,” said EBN
Advisory Board member Arlene Blum, Ph.D., about the certification. Her associate at the Green Science Policy Institute, Alex Madonik, Ph.D., is also surprised. “This certification in no way justifies the continued use of the brominated flame retardant HBCD,” he said. “Since there is no doubt that HBCD will be controlled (and eventually banned) under REACH [the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals], Dow should tell us what they are doing to replace it.”
According to Bolton, when a client such as Dow engages MBDC, it commits to regular review and improvement. “We will check in at least once per year, if not more often, to make sure that the client is working on problems and making progress,” he said. Bolton explained that the timeline for making an improvement, such as eliminating brominated flame retardants, depends on how challenging the problem is.
was not able to confirm with Dow or MBDC a specific timeline for eliminating HBCD from Styrofoam.
Concern about the Silver certification of Styrofoam XPS illustrates a widespread misconception about the C2C program. As explained in
’s article “Cradle to Cradle Certification: A Peek Inside MBDC’s Black Box” (see EBN Feb. 2007
), at the Basic and Silver levels the C2C standard for chemical safety means only that a product is being carefully examined by MBDC and that the product’s manufacturer knows what is in it and has committed to improving it. Designers expecting a C2C logo to provide assurance that a specific product is free of hazards may want to read the fine print. Red-listed chemicals, such as brominated flame retardants (though not PVC), may be present in products carrying those lower levels of certification, but not in products certified to Gold and Platinum levels. MBDC is aware of this confusion and has told
that they are trying to address it.
For more information:
McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry
February 1, 2010