Ban on new brominated flame-retardant in the Netherlands lets everyone breathe easier

Press release - 30 January, 2003

The Dutch State Council, the highest administrative court in the Netherlands, has rejected a permit for the production of a new brominated flame-retardant (1). The council classified this flame-retardant as potentially hazardous and stressed that the manufacturer was not able to provide enough information to prove the contrary.

"This is a big victory for the environment," said Bart van Opzeeland, Greenpeace Netherlands campaigner. "This is the first time that the precautionary principle has been used by the courts to protect the environment and people by stopping the production and marketing of a new chemical. It places the burden of proof on the company to show that the chemical will not create environmental and human harm."(2)

Greenpeace appealed against the initial permit to produce and market this substance in January 2002. The substance belongs to a group of brominated flame-retardants, which are persistent, accumulate in the environment and are toxic (3). Brominated flame-retardants are used in a wide range of consumer products, including computers and TV's. They are toxic, persistent and accumulate in the environment. They are not only found in indoor air and in our bodies but also in wildlife, even in remote regions. Their long-term effects on the environment are virtually unknown.

The company Broomchemie, a subsidiary of the Israeli company, Dead Sea Bromine Group and based in Terneuzen, Netherlands, wanted to start production of this new flame-retardant in November 2001 for use in, among other things, cooker hoods and water piping. After protests by Greenpeace and other NGOs, the Dutch environment minister ordered the company to stop production, marketing and export of this new chemical. The company appealed against this decision, but now the State Council has ruled that this chemical should not be produced and marketed because of its potential hazards.

'It is standard practice for companies to market their hazardous products and use the environment and people as guinea pigs. When evidence of their environmental and health impacts become obvious, they simply replace them with other hazardous products," added van Opzeeland. "It's encouraging to see that governments are starting to live up to their commitments to stop these practises." (4)

New chemical legislation for the EU, due for completion this year, provides an opportunity for change. The more responsible, precautionary approach taken by the Dutch Sate Council to protect the environment and human health from the chemical provides a model for future chemical regulations throughout Europe. It places the responsibility on industry to prove safety and justify the use of chemicals.

"The old system has failed to protect us from this and other hazardous chemicals" said van Opzeeland. "This ruling will set a precedent for the future of EU chemical legislation in order to protect us from untested and dangerous products."

Notes: 1) BIS (2,3-DIBROMOPROPYL) TETRABROMOBISPHENOL-A, otherwise known as FR-720.2) According to the precautionary principle, preventative measures should be taken if an activity has the potential to cause harm to the environment and people, even if full scientific evidence is not available.3) This new flame-retardant is similar to another brominated flame retardant, tetra bromobisphenol-A (TBBPA), which is already known to be hazardous. TBBPA, used in circuit boards and casings of electronic goods, can interfere with the thyroid hormone system in mammals. It is found in the air and dust of buildings and can pass into the blood stream of people working with computers. Despite these hazards, the EU risk assessment of TBBPA remains incomplete more than two years after it was prioritised, and yet Europe continues to use thousands of tonnes of TBBPA in consumer products every year.4) The Netherlands signed and ratified the POPs treaty that was adopted in 2001. This treaty aims to eliminate existing persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and prevent the production and marketing of new POPs. Presently, it is signed by 151 countries of which 26 have ratified it. The Netherlands is also committed to the principle of no new hazardous substances under the OSPAR Convention, which aims to stop all releases of hazardous substances to the marine environment by 2020.