EPA Releases Alternatives Analysis for Thermal Paper, Flame Retardant Chemicals

By Pat Rizzuto

Jan. 30 — The Environmental Protection Agency has released two alternatives assessments to help companies that want to choose chemicals to substitute for bisphenol A in thermal paper and decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE) as a fire retardant for plastic.

The goal of both analyses is to provide information about potential health and environmental hazards the chemicals and possible substitutes pose, the agency said.

The assessments should help companies that are looking for alternatives make choices and reduce their risk of having to repeat the process because an initially selected alternative doesn't work, the EPA said.

The documents also may help states or other regulators examining information a company has submitted in its own alternatives analysis. Some states, such as California, are requiring these types of analyses.

The EPA's Design for the Environment program assembled diverse parties who brought different information, expertise and perspectives to each analysis.

DecaBDE

For decaBDE, these participants included chemical, aerospace, automotive, electronics and textile manufacturers; the International Association of Fire Chiefs; environmental health organizations; recycling companies; and state and local government officials.

The decaBDE analysis provided information for 29 chemicals and chemical mixtures.

“Chemicals were selected for evaluation based on their potential as substitutes for decaBDE, not because they are expected to be safer than decaBDE,” the EPA said.

The 901-page analysis provided detailed information that showed trade-offs.

For example, decaBDE scored low for genotoxicity, moderate for carcinogenicity, high for developmental toxicity and very high for persistence.

Companies making flame-retardant products want chemicals that don't degrade so that the protection continues throughout a product's lifetime, the EPA said. Persistence in the environment, however, can pose a concern.

Some of the alternatives were readily biodegradable but toxic to the aquatic environment, the EPA said.

Bisphenol A

A minor use of bisphenol A is to help make paper receipts such as grocery receipts without carbon paper. The analysis said, however, that this particular use could result in higher exposure than some other BPA applications would.

The partnership that examined alternatives to bisphenol A in thermal paper included paper manufacturers, companies making equipment for thermal paper, chemical manufacturers, retailers, trade associations, scientific experts, environmental health organizations and international governmental organizations.

The 519-page analysis of bisphenol A examined 19 possible alternatives.

“No clearly safer alternatives to BPA were identified in this report—most alternatives have moderate or high hazard designations for human health or aquatic toxicity endpoints,” the analysis said.

The partnership found that three of the 20 chemicals (BPA and the 19 alternatives) scored low or very low in their potential to persist in the environment, and 11 had high or very high persistence values.

Two had a high potential to bioaccumulate.

Kathryn St. John, a spokeswoman for the American Chemistry Council's North American Flame Retardant Alliance, said that panel is pleased to see the EPA has completed its alternatives assessment of decaBDE, which U.S. manufacturers already have stopped making or importing.

“EPA's alternatives assessment will be helpful to our customers as they consider alternatives that will provide their customers with the same level of fire protection,” St. John said.

DecaBDE Phase Out

Key reasons for substituting either chemical differ. DecaBDE production is being phased out in the U.S. and restricted in some states and regions.

U.S. manufacturers of decaBDE are phasing that chemical out of production under a voluntary agreement the EPA announced in 2009.

Some states, such as Maine and Washington, have imposed restrictions on the uses of decaBDE.

The European Union has restricted the use of decaBDE in electrical and electronic equipment under its Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive.

By contrast, bisphenol A remains a high production volume chemical, produced at an estimated volume of 2.4 billion pounds in 2007, the EPA's analysis said. It had an estimated value of almost $2 billion in 2010, the agency said.

However, in 2010 the EPA issued an action plan for bisphenol A. That plan said bisphenol A is a reproductive, developmental and systemic toxicant in animal studies and is weakly estrogenic.

Questions About Impact

“There are questions about its potential impact, particularly on children's health and the environment,” the agency said.

The agency's action plan said it would organize partnerships to explore alternatives to bisphenol A's use in thermal paper coatings, its use to make materials that line water and wastewater pipes and its use in foundry castings. Foundries are accountable for large releases of BPA as reported under the Toxic Release Inventory, the EPA said.

The BPA thermal paper alternatives assessment is the first of those three analyses to be completed.

To contact the reporter on this story: Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

The decaBDE and bisphenol A analyses are available at http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/projects/index.htm.