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Tuesday, 17 September 2019
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Raw materials & technologies, Raw materials, Coatings additives

EMPA research helps to ban flame retardant HBCD

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Swiss scientists contribute to new regulation under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

Crystal structures of (-) alpha, (-) beta and (-) gamma HBCDs (top to bottom). Alpha HBCD compounds in particular do not biodegrade well and accumulate along food chains

Source: Empa
Crystal structures of (-) alpha, (-) beta and (-) gamma HBCDs (top to bottom). Alpha HBCD compounds in particular do not biodegrade well and accumu...

The flame retardant HBCD may no longer be produced or used. This was decided by representatives from over 160 countries in late May at a UN conference on chemicals in Geneva. The extensive research by the Swiss research institute Empa on HBCD contributed to the new regulation of HBCD under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). Hexabromocyclododecane is a brominated flame retardant used for many years mainly in thermal insulation foams and in textile coatings.

It is a lengthy process before a contaminant is identified as such and its harmful effects are highlighted with a worldwide ban. This is acknowledged by Norbert Heeb, chemist in Empa's analytical chemistry lab. He was involved in uncovering the exact structures of HBCD. On closer inspection, the substance turned out to be a whole group of compounds. Together with researchers from ETH Zurich, Eawag and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), he published several studies that show how HBCD is structured, which forms tend to accumulate in the environment and count as persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

There has long been a reasonable suspicion that HBCDs were an environmental toxin that could harm fish and mammals. HBCDs are sufficiently fat soluble to accumulate along the food chain and they decompose in the environment so slowly that they can be transported over long distances; so far, HBCDs have even been detected in the Arctic. It was the task of UN experts to assess whether HBCDs met the criteria defined in the Stockholm Convention on POPs. Besides the exact chemical structures, various issues had to be explained scientifically including biodegradability (persistence), bioaccumulation, potential for long-range transport and any harmful effects of individual HBCD stereoisomers.

 

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