Brominated Flame Retardants
Brominated flame retardants (BFRS) are organic chemicals used as additives to reduce the flammability of plastics and textiles BFRs present a special regulatory challenge because their use is largely driven by fire safety concerns; thus, they benefit private parties. However, production and disposal may pose environmental harm, thus imposing costs on third parties. Therefore, fire safety codes and other safety measures promoting the use of BFRs must be balanced with regulation to protect health and the environment.
Many brominated organic compounds can be used as flame retardants. Among related chemicals are some that have gained considerable notoriety in the past -- for example, tris(2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate (called Tris) and polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs). Tris was used as a flame retardant in children's sleepwear until it was found to be a potential carcinogen and mutagen that could be absorbed through the skin. PBBs, carcinogens analogous to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), were widely used in plastics in the early 1970s until an accidental contamination of animal feed in Michigan forced the destruction of thousands of cattle and hogs and millions of chickens. Plastics manufacturers then rapidly switched to polybrominated biphenyl ethers (PPBEs) and other brominated or chlorinated compounds considered to be less toxic. However, recent concerns over the potential long-term risks associated with these and other BFRs now in common use have triggered yet another search for substitutes.
This history suggests several special characteristics of the flame- retardant industry in addition to the need to balance the goals of fire safety and environmental protection. First, there is a large and expanding number of BFR-related chemicals. At present, if the use of one BFR is restricted, then the most likely substitute is another