News Analysis

New Flame Retardants Less Toxic but Still Persistent, Says EPA

The agency finds no perfect solution to replace HBCD in polystyrene insulation, but one alternative appears far safer.

Polystyrene insulation contains one of the most toxic flame retardants still in common use: hexabromocyclododecane, or HBCD. HBCD is a persistent, bioaccumulative toxic chemical and a human developmental toxicant (one of the reasons that EBN asked in 2009 whether this type of foam belongs in a green building at all); it will be phased out in Europe by 2015, but finding alternatives hasn’t been easy because substitutes must perform as well as the original and also be chemically compatible with the foam.

Now the Design for the Environment program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a draft report examining two proposed HBCD alternatives and suggesting that one chemical, though highly likely to persist in ecosystems, is far less toxic and bioaccumulative than HBCD (see “PBT Chemicals—Persistent, Bioaccumulative, Toxic”).

Published November 1, 2013