Bromine is a chemical that design engineers need to keep their eyes on. It’s a highly effective flame retardant in plastics, and no doubt, has saved many lives.
The chemical, however, has been under intense scrutiny for many years, and some tough actions are starting to take effect.
- The State of Maine passed a bill that bans the use of decabromodiphenyl ether as a flame retardant in the casings of televisions and computers after Jan 1, 2010. Similar bills are under consideration in other states.
- The State of Washington passed a law that bans the use of decabromodiphenyl ether as a flame retardant in televisions, computers and residential upholstered furniture after Jan. 1, 2011
- The use of decabromodiphenyl ether in electrical and electronic equipment was banned in the European Union effective July 1, 2008. Agencies in the European Union continue to evaluate the risks to human health and the environment associated with certain brominated flame retardants, including decabromodiphenyl ether, hexabromocyclododecane and tetrabromobisphenol A.
One of the leaders in bromine chemistry, Albemarle Corp., today announced launch of a new brand “Earthwise GreenArmor”. The first products will be introduced late in 2010. Few details are available, The company stated that the brand is a “unique, organic flame retardant” aimed at different plastic resins “that will provide better performance across a wide range of applications, while improving the sustainability of the plastic resins used in many consumer products”.
Albemarle added that GreenArmor is a result of multi-year investments. Some of the criteria for the brand are said to include improved recyclability or reuse, use of non toxic, non-bioaccumulative materials and a favorable greenhouse gas footprint.
As Design News has reported, many solutions have been emerging as an alternative to bromine flame retardants. Many involve proprietary chemistries developed by resin producers who are using new compounds as a marketing wedge against certain brominated compounds.
The bottom line for design engineers:
1. Make sure you are aware of any bromine content in plastics or parts you specify, particularly in the electrical and electronics area.
2. Be aware of any health or environmental issues or pending regulations affecting those materials.
3. Ask tough questions when suppliers approach you with substitutes. What testing results are available to support claims of effectiveness? What will they cost? What will be the conversion costs? What is their environmental impact? How do they function differently from the compounds they replace? As usual, we recommend full, functional prototype testing of the new compounds.