Saturday, January 9, 2010

DecaBrom, the Fire Retardant in TV's Finally Banned. Environment Wins. Firefighters Lose.


DecaBrom is a fire retardant used in electronics housings. There has been a battle between environmentalists who want to ban it for safety and fire marshals who want to prevent house fires.




Burning TV set in a test:



DecaBrom has been under environmental pressure for years since it doesn't degrade and similar materials are toxic. Decabrom is decabromo diphenyl ether, and as the deca prefix should lead you to believe, it has ten bromines. The analogs with six or eight bromines cost less, but they are toxic to the liver and thyroid. They were banned years ago. The biggest crime of decabrom is its analogy to these materials. Those materials are retained in the body for years. Its second crime is being the brominated analog of PCB's or polychlorinated biphenyls. PCB's really are toxic.  (Regulators can't tell difference between halogens. ) Research shows that decabrom largely passes thought the body unaltered. Of course you can't incinerate it because it is a fire retardant.

Decabrom was banned in Germany in the 80's. Some conjectured that it degrades into the more toxic, nonabromide or octabromide.

No one would care about this if the fire retardant did not save lives. There are 325 TV fires per million TVs in Europe where decabrom is banned, and there are only 5 fires per million in the USA. Secondly, few old TV's end up soaking in the river, where it might get into the biosphere. Most are landfilled, and some are recycled.

Nonetheless, the US producers of decabrom, Chemtura and Albemarle have agreed to stop making it. There are alternative fire retardants, but one needs to use a lot more. I am sure the decline in sales of CRT TV's maybe a factor since LCD TV's are safer.