A new study claiming to have found measurable levels of HBCD
(hexabromocyclododecane), a brominated flame retardant, in US
food products, has been challenged by industry bodies in the EU
and the US.
The study, HBCD Stereoisomers
in US Food from Dallas, Texas, was submitted to
Environmental Health Perspectives Journal in January
2012 and published at the end of May this year.
It analysed 36 individual food
samples, including peanut butter, poultry, fish and beef, and
found detectable levels of HBCD in 15 of those samples, the
The study suggested that food
containing the chemical may be a substantial contributor to
elevated-HBCD levels observed in humans in other studies.
Health risks associated with HBCD
exposure include alterations in immune and reproductive
systems, neurotoxic effects and endocrine disruption.
The North American Flame Retardants Alliance (NAFRA) and the
European Flame Retardants Association (EFRA) both issued
responses downplaying the findings.
The real story is that HBCD
was not detected in the majority of samples, Bryan
Goodman, a spokesperson for NAFRA, said in a statement on 31
EFRA issued a statement on 15 June
dismissing the studys suggestion that the amount of HBCD
in food could pose a threat to human health.
Reiterating Goodmans point
that HBCD was only present in a minority of the food samples,
Dr Phillipe Salemis, EFRA director, emphasised that in
those where it was [detected], it was far below levels where
one might see adverse health effects.
The authors themselves noted
that human exposure from the foods that were studied is well
below critical effect levels identified by the EU,
Both associations also stressed
that the analysed foods were selected from a group in which
HBCD had previously been identified, introducing a risk of
Additionally, researchers had
focused on the frequency of identification, rather than levels
measured, which were slightly lower than previous studies, the
In response to the news that peanut
butter was one of the foods found to contain detectable levels
of HBCD, the American Peanut Council (APC) issued a statement
saying: We are concerned to read reports about a study
linking a fire retardant chemical to a wide range of
The researchers did not
detect any of the compound in the three peanut butter samples
taken for this limited study and found minute traces in one
sample of peanut butter from a previous study, the APC
The APC, however, reassured
consumers that the the American peanut industry is
nonetheless committed to understanding this research thoroughly
and collaborating with public health officials on any further
actions that may be necessary.
The flame retardants industries in the EU and the US have come
under sustained pressure from environmental and health and
safety groups in recent months over the potential health risks
posed by flame-retardant chemicals.
The groups claim that the damage
caused by hazardous chemicals needs to be balanced with the
danger of fire in domestic households.
In the US, the Green Science Policy
Institute argued that flame retardants posed important health
risks in a report, The Case against Candle Resistant
TVs, published on 23 March 2012.
Proposed amendments to
International Electro Technical Commission [IEC] standards
60065 and 62368 for candle ignition-resistance of television
enclosures have no fire-safety rationale as well as a large
potential to cause serious harm to health and the global
environment, the report said.
The amendments in question were
voted down by the TC108 National Committee in May.
EFRA issued a statement soon
afterwards expressing its concern over the
decision, arguing that the new standards would have increased
fire safety for televisions in domestic use.
A series of articles published in
the Chicago Tribune have raised anxiety over
Californias stringent fire-resistance regulations, which
act as the default standard for the US.
The paper claimed in July that
toxic flame retardants were being pushed by
industry lobbyists as necessary to the fire safety of consumer
products, despite the fact that incidents of candle
ignition-type fires were low.
The paper also reported that the
current candle-flame ignition test, which can only be met by
flame-retardant foams, will shortly be replaced with a less
rigorous smoldering-cigarette test by Californias
Openings for alternatives
Alternative fire-resistant materials may gain commercial
traction as the consensus moves against traditional
bromine-based flame retardants.
Alexium International Group, a
US-based manufacturer of flame-retardant textile treatments,
said that it expects to benefit from industry and legislative
moves away from traditional retardants.
Since our novel FR
[flame-retardant] chemistry does not contain bromine or any
other halogens, we feel very confident that we will find
commercial traction, Stefan Susta, Alexium COO, said.
We anticipate carrying the market momentum into our
recent discussions with potential licensees in Europe,
Australia and Asia - and will extend future applications
beyond the textile industry, he added.