Consumer Update: Avoiding Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs)
Many companies that sell consumer products in Europe where regulations are in place to protect the consumer, are required to eliminate or phase out toxic chemicals, including BFRs. Some of these producers market BFR-free electronics in the U.S. We recommend that you read a study by the International Chemical Secretariat (ChemSec), a non-profit organization working for a toxic-free environment. Founded in 2002, ChemSec has an ambitious goal: a toxic free environment by 2020. The organization highlights the health and environmental risks of hazardous substances and provides science-based information on toxic chemicals in consumer products.
ChemSec has published a report, Electronics Without Brominated Flame retardants and PVC – A Market Overview that covers over 500 specific product models. The categories include large and small consumer appliances, consumer equipment, and IT and telecom equipment. Refrigerators, electric toothbrushes, TVs computers, cookers, copiers, mobile phones, printers, DVD players, washing machines and more are rated by brand to identify their current BFR content.
The report also identifies companies that have adopted strategies and policies to replace BFRs and PVC by 2014.
Only 63 of the 500 or so products identified are totally free from BFRs, although many of the others only have minor parts containing BFRs or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) found, for example, in the external power cord or in the circuit board.
Reviewing 28 electronic companies, ChemSec found that:
- 23 of these have at least one product on the market free or almost free from BFRs.
- 25 of these have at least one product on the market free or almost free from PVC.
- Three out of four companies officially state that by 2014 they will have products totally free from brominated flame retardants and/or PVC on the market
Above chart created by MERI Communications using Greenpeace data on computers, monitors, cell phones and music players
The Chemsec report does not include mattresses, a prime source of BFRs. However, IKEA finished phasing out all PBDEs in its products in 2002 and has not used these chemicals in their children's mattresses for at least 15 years. Other companies that make PBDE-free mattresses include European Sleep Works, Essentia and Lifekind.
The report illustrates that more environmentally-friendly electronics are possible and that the industry can move away from the use of BFRs and PVC in product manufacturing.