Brominated and Chlorinated Flame Retardants: The San Antonio Statement

By Birnbaum, Linda S.; Bergman, Ake | Environmental Health Perspectives, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Brominated and Chlorinated Flame Retardants: The San Antonio Statement


Birnbaum, Linda S., Bergman, Ake, Environmental Health Perspectives


The "San Antonio Statement on Brominated and Chlorinated Flame Retardants" addresses the growing concern in the scientific community about the persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic properties of brominated and chlorinated organic flame retardants (BFRs and CFRs, respectively) and the exposure to humans and wildlife as a result of intensive use. Nearly 150 scientists from 22 countries have signed the statement since it was presented at the 30th International Symposium on Halogenated Persistent Organic Pollutants (Dioxin 2010), held 12-17 September 2010 in San Antonio, Texas. The scientist signatories are experts on the health effects and environmental fate of BFRs and CFRs and environmental contaminants in general. The International Panel on Chemical Pollution (IPCP), an international network of scientists working on various aspects of chemical pollution, also has approved the statement.

The San Antonio Statement addresses the behavior of chemicals that first appeared in the scientific literature in the 1970s. In 1973, an accidental, severe, and tragic mix-up in Michigan substituted the commercial BFR Firemaster BP-6 for magnesium oxide in cattle feed (Fries 1985). The active chemicals in Firemaster BP-6 were polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), flame retardant chemicals similar to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), but containing bromine instead of chlorine. The accidental use of PBBs led to environmental contamination affecting wildlife and humans. Although banned for several decades, PBBs can still be detected in environmental samples worldwide. Another flame retardant, tris(2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate, commonly known as "Tris" and widely used in children's sleepwear in the 1970s, raised concern when it was identified as a mutagen and carcinogen and was subsequently prohibited from use in sleepwear (Blum et al. 1978).

After PBBs were restricted, the use of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) as flame retardants in consumer products increased dramatically over the next several decades. PBDEs are structurally similar to both PCBs and PBBs and have the potential for similar behavior. However, in 2004 two commercial mixtures--PentaBDE and OctaBDE (the name reflecting the average number of bromines present)--were banned in the European Union (Cox and Efthymiou 2003) and voluntarily withdrawn from production by the sole U.S. manufacturer (Great Lakes Chemical 2009). PBDEs contained in these two mixtures were subsequently adopted as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) by the Stockholm Convention (Stockholm Convention Secretariat 2010). The cause for concern is now well recognized. However, the resistance to degradation continues to result in high concentrations of PBDEs in the environment, wildlife, and people (de Wit et al. 2006; Frederiksen et al. 2009; Su et al. 2007). The most heavily brominated mixture, DecaBDE, which is dominated by the fully brominated diphenyl ether, is currently produced and widely used in products. DecaBDE has been restricted in the European Union (European Parliament and the Council of the European Union 2003) and will be voluntarily withdrawn in the United States in 2013 (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2010), but production and use continue in other regions.

New BFRs and CFRs have emerged as substitutes for PBDEs or for use in other types of products. Many of these substances also are persistent and bioaccumulative and are found not only in environmental samples and house dust (Harrad et al. 2010) but also in people (Frederiksen et al. 2009) and wildlife, even those located far from the original source (de Wit et al. 2006; Montie et al. 2010). Adequate toxicity information is lacking, but data indicate that the group contains compounds that are carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive and developmental toxicants, neurotoxicants, and endocrine disruptors (Birnbaum and Staskal 2004; Darnerud 2008). Despite these properties, only a few have been regulated. There is growing evidence that specific compounds mentioned in the San Antonio Statement, such as chlorinated Tris, hexabromocyclododecane, decabromodiphenyl ethane, bis(2,4,6-tribromophenoxy) ethane, bis(2-ethylhexyl) tetrabromophthalate, Dechlorane Plus, polychlorinated alkanes, and others may be of environmental and health concern.

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