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Albemarle phases out Deca-BDE, launches styrene-based alternative FR

Shortly after announcing that it would begin marketing a line of organic flame retardants (FR) in 2010, specialty chemicals manufacturer Albemarle (Baton Rouge, LA) said it would phase out the production and sale of Deca-BDE FRs, also known as decabrom. That chemical, decabromodiphenyl ether, saw widespread use as a flame retardant but after health and environmental concerns were raised, it underwent hundreds of peer-reviewed and regulatory studies.

(Baton Rouge, LA) said it would phase out the production and sale of Deca-BDE FRs, also known as decabrom. That chemical, decabromodiphenyl ether, saw widespread use as a flame retardant but after health and environmental concerns were raised, it underwent hundreds of peer-reviewed and regulatory studies. Of particular concern was its bioaccumulative nature, with trace amounts of the chemical found in the environment as well as humans, but little known about what health impact they might have.

While acknowledging the previous approval of the chemical and its years of work in FRs, Brian Carter, global business director of Albemarle’s flame retardant group said in a release that his company would help the industry move in a new direction. “Safe and environmentally sound substitutes for decabrom are available today,” Carter said, “and we are working with our customers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement a phase out of Deca-BDE in the coming years.” Another FR chemical that has been under greater scrutiny, Penta-BDE, was never used by Albemarle, and was phased out several years ago by the only U.S. supplier that applied it.

Albemarle’s new Earthwise brand, called GreenArmor, is described as an organic flame retardant suitable for use in a variety of plastics. Carter told PlasticsToday that the FR is not phosphorous based, which is a route other companies have taken to avoid the use of brominated components. Instead, Carter said GreenArmor is based on a custom-made polystyrene. The company believes it will also improve the sustainability of the plastic resins used in many consumer products, by allowing them to be recycled. GreenArmor’s polymer-based flame retardant technology is the first product in a portfolio Albemarle is developing of what it calls “sustainable fire safety and chemical solutions”. It hopes the offerings will “ address societal and industry expectations for sustainable technology and increased levels of product performance.”

In terms of flame retarding performance and usage, Carter said GreenArmor can be used in a number of resins, with the FR performance and let-down ratio for a typical V-0 application dependent on the resin chosen. Amounts could range from 10-15% in styrenics and polyesters, up to 19-22% in polyolefins and polyamides, according to Carter.

A 2006 Illinois Environmental Protection Agency study found that Deca BDE was indeed bioaccumulating in the environment, with levels increasing in some samples. The agency determined that humans are primarily exposed to DecaBDE from the diet, workplace, and home. The agency said it was not able to “fully determine what health effects could result from exposure”, but it did say that liver, thyroid, reproductive/developmental, and neurological effects were the most “important effects” seen in animal studies. On July 1, 2008, the European Union’s RoHS (restriction of hazardous substances) exemption for Deca BDE ended, forcing companies to seek FR alternatives. —Tony Deligio

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