03 May Making sure that safer means safe in Washington
The Washington State Department of Ecology’s (Department of Ecology) has embarked on an important mission to improve consumer safety via its “Safer Products for Washington”. It aims to reduce priority chemicals in consumer products. Safety is a top priority for BSEF, and it is for that reason that we have concerns with the current approach, which could have the opposite effect than the good intentions.
The Department of Ecology conducted a consultation ending on 28 January to determine if regulatory actions are needed for 11 chemical-product combinations including flame retardants used in electronics. The outcome will be known by 1 June 2022 and potential rules would be drafted within a year and take effect at the latest 1 June 2024. The rules would impact casing and enclosures for several products including computers, phones, laptops, washing machines, irons and more consumer products.
Real safety is based on real science – “safety guessing” is airy-fairy
The Department of Ecology intends to restrict the use of organohalogen flame retardants (OFR) which would have significant repercussions on safety and product performance for some of our favourite electronics. The anticipated measures go beyond any existing regulatory framework in the world and should therefore be supported by robust and rigorous science. We are therefore concerned with the narrow and incoherent approach to assessing the substances in scope with lower levels of scrutiny for those chemicals in the non-priority classes. The lack of a robust approach to substance assessment could be costly leading to substitution not backed by science.
The approach taken contradicts the National Academy of Science (NAS), a non-profit organisation providing independent and objective advice to the US nation on matters related to science. NAS found that the diverse group of chemicals treated as a single class is not fit for purpose. For example, NAS stated that OFRs should be sorted into 14 subgroups based on chemical structure, physicochemical properties and predicted biologic activity for purposes of further assessment. The current one-size-fits-all approach therefore does not align with the objective to provide a holistic boost to consumer and product safety.
Risk existing consumer safety supported by science
The Department of Ecology is yet to carry out its cost-benefit analysis, however, a few impacts are already clear. Having largely neglected the significant role of fire safety, houses are likely to become more hazardous. Ultimately, this leads to less protection of citizens, is likely to cause more fires, injuries and, in a worst-case scenario, increase the number of fatalities.
The substitution to alternatives that have not been subject to a robust and holistic assessment would not only lead to regrettable substitution but also uncertainty. This could be at the expense of human health, the environment and be a costly undertaking for the industry which is likely to be misguided. The Department of Ecology also failed to consider the identified alternatives impact on product safety, sustainability, innovation and performance.
From BSEF’s meet the expert series, professors have also emphasised the importance of flame retardants in protecting humans. One example is Dr. Horrocks stating that ‘no effective replacement for brominated flame retardants for furnishing fabrics have been found in the last 20 years or so’. Finally, Washington’s States move to reduce the flame retardant properties in consumer products comes at a time when European countries national boards for fire safety such as the Dutch recognises the importance of flame retardancy and their ability to save lives, contribute to a circular economy by preventing the destruction of materials and reducing costs.
BSEF will continue to work to protect citizens around the world and stand ready to provide support where needed.
You can read more about flame retardants here.