31 Jan Washington State’s proposed restrictions on organohalogen flame retardants risk jeopardising fire safety
In a draft rule published on 7 December 2022, the Washington State Department of Ecology proposed new restrictions and requirements for substances included in ten categories of consumer products. The proposal notably restricts the use of organohalogen flame retardants (OFRs) – which ensure fire safety – in electric and electronic products with external plastic enclosures such as televisions.
Organohalogen flame retardants are used to protect various types of plastics, textiles and electronic products against fires. Such goods require flame retardants to meet safety standards that help ensure product and consumer safety by either preventing ignition or slowing the spread of flames. This not only saves lives and valuable resources, but also aids in product durability. More specifically, OFRs are a valued choice for electronic casings thanks to their good technical compatibility with various materials, their stability during plastic processing and their efficiency at low concentrations. Moreover, in some polymer systems, specific OFRs are possibly the only commercially available solution.
Through the proposed restrictions and reporting requirements on OFRs, the Washington Department of Ecology inadequately considered the diversity of product designs, attributes and properties, as well as potential ignition threats. In addition, the proposal fails to distinguish between different types of OFRs and lacks due consideration of the suitability of alternatives – which may lead to regrettable substitutes.
Therefore, without thorough consideration and distinction, the proposal not only risks severely impacting product performance, sustainability and innovation but will likely jeopardise people’s very safety.
During the hearings on 18th and 19th January, the Department of Ecology did receive questions from the value chain seeking clarity regarding definitions and timing of any reporting requirements and restrictions. In addition, the American Chemistry Council’s North American Flame Retardant Alliance (NAFRA) raised a number of concerns with the current regulatory approach. However, unless there is legislative action, the Department is required to finalize rules for Cycle 1 by June 1, 2023.
Michael Hack, Secretary General of BSEF, insisted that “Washington State is isolating itself in the world with this proposal. The regulation of chemicals must be risk-based. Washington State also contradicts the US National Academy of Science which concluded that OFRs cannot be treated as a single class”.
Ahead of the public hearings and consultations on the draft rule, BSEF had already highlighted the need to:
- Align regulations with existing rules
- Safeguard high levels of fire safety and product design
- Ensure legislative proposals are supported by the latest science
- Narrow the regulatory proposal
In light of this, BSEF strongly encourages industry stakeholders to comment on the draft rule by the 5th of February.