Electronics pose unique fire safety risks because they constantly present a source of ignition and flammable components that can ignite as a result of product failures. Despite fire safety standards for products, including electrical and electronic equipment, more than 6.2 million units were recalled in the U.S. last year due to fire and shock hazards.1
Flame retardants are used by product manufacturers to meet or exceed flammability standards as part of a general approach to product safety.2 They can offer valuable mitigation of ignition failures in electrical and electronic equipment.3
Published studies show that the specific flame retardants used in electronic enclosures do not pose a risk to human health or the environment. However, the claims of some individuals and organizations along with recently proposed and adopted policies may make you believe otherwise.
For example, the European Commission’s Ecodesign Directive, which entered into force on 1 March 2021, restricts the use of halogenated flame retardants (OFRs) in electronic display enclosures and stands. This regulatory policy is not based on any serious scientific risk assessment and targets a whole class of chemicals, almost none of which are subject to other regulatory restrictions.
The rationale for the EU directive was not related to chemical safety. Instead, the basis for the ban was a misconception that OFR hindered recycling. However, plastics containing OFR can be disposed of by recycling companies in Europe.4 The court is currently appealing the directive to the European Court, which is expected to decide later this year.5
OFR is used in electronics to provide critical fire safety. Improper pressure to remove OFR could potentially put consumers at risk. These substances are commonly found in TVs, cell phones, and various electrical appliances to help prevent small fires from escalating into larger fires – neither fires nor wildfires.
Instead of attacking the use of flame retardants, you should focus on using the right safe chemicals – the right chemical for the right use. Electronics manufacturers need to balance the need to meet consumer demand for smaller, lighter and more powerful electronics with the need to ensure that these devices meet safety standards.
What about OFR alternatives? Simple replacement is in many cases impossible. Electronic enclosures can not only improve the appearance and mobility of the product, but can also protect against the risk of fire and impact. Manufacturers of products need a wide range of materials for electrical and electronic equipment that can work indoors, outdoors and in between.
Recently, there has been a trend toward a unified policy of federal and state politicians to ban, restrict, or regulate entire families of chemicals. It is not scientifically accurate or appropriate to draw broad conclusions or impose a single approach for all flame retardants or even subclasses of flame retardants. Not all flame retardants are the same. They are a diverse set of chemicals that differ in properties and molecular structure. Chemical and toxicological properties differ greatly between different flame retardants and even substances of the same family. Therefore, specifications, standards and regulations should consider specific fire retardants and specific applications.
Reviews and regulations should take into account significant differences between the many compounds that belong to the family of chemicals. Instead of using a common approach for all, we need a fact-based discussion of the nature of these substances, how they differ from each other and what they affect and what they do not affect from a human point of view. health and the environment.
Product safety should be a common goal of all stakeholders. Listening to science is a way to ensure that the chemicals and the products they allow are safe and affordable.
1Knapp, G., Analysis of the transition from decay to flame in polyurethane assemblies, representative of upholstered furniture, 2019. https://drum.lib.umd.edu/bitstream/handle/1903/25190/Knapp_umd_203176
2Blais, MS, Carpenter, K. & Fernandez, K. A comparative study of Burn rooms furnished rooms from the United Kingdom, France and the United States. Fire Technol 56, 489–514 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10694-019-00888-8
3Blaise, M., Carpenter, K. Characteristics of burning flat screen TVs with and without flame arresters. Fire Technology 51, 19–40 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10694-014-0420-7
4Sofies, “Study of the impact of brominated flame retardants on the processing of WEEE plastics in Europe”, https://www.bsef.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Study-on-the-impact-of -Brominated-fire-retardants-BFRs -on-WEEE-plastics-recycling-by-Sofies-Lov-2020.pdf.
5BSEF v European Commission (Case T-113/20)