30 Sep The case against the grouping of brominated flame retardants
The European Commission’s Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability adopted in October 2020, includes a requirement for the Commission to extend the ‘generic approach to risk management’, i.e. restricting certain substances in products for certain users while allowing limited exemptions under conditions clearly defined in law. The strategy noted that: “until the assessment of the proposed changes and their introduction in the REACH Regulation is in place, it is foreseen in the Strategy to “prioritise carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic substances (CMRs), endocrine disruptors, persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic substances, immuno-toxicants (…) for restrictions for all uses and through grouping, instead of regulating them one by one”.
The scientific robustness of this proposed approach has been controversial. Beyond the scientific rationality, we must also bear in mind the unintended effects that could decrease consumer safety and lower living standards.
Grouping is never black and white issue; it is often found that similarly structured molecules have discordant data outcomes on key hazard endpoints. When it comes to brominated flame retardants the properties that determine their unique functionality as flame retardants are often the same ones that separate their potential hazards. The type of molecular backbone, the amount of bromine and bond positioning drive toxicological properties; properties unique to that molecule.
Brominated Flame Retardants contain many different types of chemicals, with widely differing molecular structures, physicochemical, toxicological and ecotoxicological properties and chemistries (additives, reactive, polymeric).
In a report to the US Consumer Products Safety Commission, US National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine considered this challenge and concluded that flame retardants “cannot be treated as a single class for the purposes of a hazard assessment”. Similar conclusions on flame retardants’ divergent properties have been highlighted by the European Food Safety Authority as well as the environmental protection agencies in the U.S and Canada.