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NAFRA Comments on Final Regulatory Determinations Report Under Safer Products for Washington

Proposal to Regulate Flame Retardants May Significantly Impact Consumers and Businesses in Washington State

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Jennifer Garfinkel
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WASHINGTON (June 8, 2022) — The American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) North American Flame Retardant Alliance (NAFRA) issued the following statement in response to the Final Regulatory Determinations Report to the Legislature from the Washington State Department of Ecology (Department of Ecology) regarding its implementation of Safer Products for Washington.

“NAFRA is deeply disappointed with the Department of Ecology's alternatives assessment approach and outcome. The Department failed to properly evaluate organohalogen flame retardants (OFRs) and their alternatives in a complete or consistent manner that considered availability, performance, safety, and cost for Washington consumers and businesses. Flame retardants help make everyday products safer by reducing fire risk, and regulation of their use in commerce demands a thorough and transparent process. However, we acknowledge the Department has made changes from its draft report, and we are appreciative that the Department incorporated stakeholder feedback in some instances.

“The Department of Ecology has not demonstrated electrical and electronic equipment with enclosures utilizing flame retardants is a significant source of chemical exposure. Therefore, these products should not be designated a priority product based on the Safer Products for Washington criteria. Specific flame retardants used in electronic casings are either not found in the Washington environment or any actual measured levels are extremely low and therefore unlikely to present a risk to human health or the environment.1

“The Department’s recommendation to regulate OFRs in plastic device casings and enclosures of electronic and electrical equipment is also inconsistent with federal chemicals management policy. These recommendations may have unintended consequences for the safety and availability of products in Washington State. As it stands, the recommendations do not clearly define what chemicals are regulated, what products are covered, or what manufacturers should do when they have no alternatives. Such regulations would apply to a wide range of products, including but not limited to televisions, charging cables, kitchen appliances, clothes washers and dryers, irons, coffee makers, vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, and various other electronic and electrical equipment.

“The proposed recommendations cover an extremely broad range of products and product categories. This could ban virtually any product where OFRs are used in plastic casings and enclosures for indoor electrical and electronic equipment, even if those products are used mostly in commercial and industrial applications.

“Simple substitution is not possible in many cases. Electronic device manufacturers balance consumer demand for smaller, lighter, and more powerful products with the need to ensure that those devices meet performance and safety standards. Product manufacturers need a broad array of material choices for electrical and electronic equipment that can work indoors, outdoors, and places in between. Plastic casings serve as an enclosure that protects from fire and shock risk. If left untreated, these plastics are flammable, so flame retardants serve as a critical line of defense against fire. In many cases, flame retardants help address key technical challenges like moisture uptake, mechanical performance, and resistance to aging.

“An effective alternatives assessment process considers multiple factors that are important for overall product design and performance, including critical attributes related to efficacy, safety, and sustainability. Absent a more robust and holistic alternatives assessment process, this new regulatory program may foster regrettable substitution that detracts from its objectives.

“Public health risks posed by fire remains a concern in Washington State. Last year, firefighters in the state responded to 9,868 residential fire calls, which is a fire every 53 minutes.2  Flame retardants are used by product manufacturers to meet or exceed flammability standards as part of an overall approach to product safety. One of the most important benefits of flame retardants in product design is they can stop small ignition events from turning into larger fires.3,4,5  Therefore, flame retardants are an essential tool for overall electronics safety and performance.

“No state, federal, or international regulatory authority has considered regulations for flame retardants in electronics as broad as the ones being considered in Washington State. Any proposed regulations should seek to align with relevant federal and international regulations.

“If the Safer Products Program is going to be successful, it is critical that Washington State gets this right. Product safety is a shared objective. We look forward to working with policymakers in the state to enhance implementation of this new program and help ensure that chemicals and the products that they enable are safe and available.”

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1 Washington Department of Ecology, Flame Retardants in Ten Washington Lakes, 2017-2018, December 2019. https://apps.ecology.wa.gov/publications/documents/1903021.pdf

2 Washington State Fire Marshal, 2021 Fire in Washington, 2022. https://www.wsp.wa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Fire_in_Washington_Report.pdf

3 Knapp, G., The Analysis of the Transition from Smoldering to Flaming in Polyurethane Containing Assemblies Representative of Upholstered Furniture, 2019. https://drum.lib.umd.edu/bitstream/handle/1903/25190/Knapp_umd_0117N_20336.pdf

4 Blais, M.S., Carpenter, K. & Fernandez, K. Comparative Room Burn Study of Furnished Rooms from the United Kingdom, France and the United States. Fire Technol 56, 489–514 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10694-019-00888-8

5 Blais, M., Carpenter, K. Combustion Characteristics of Flat Panel Televisions with and Without Fire Retardants in the Casing. Fire Technol 51, 19–40 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10694-014-0420-7

American Chemistry Council

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) represents the leading companies engaged in the multibillion-dollar business of chemistry. ACC members apply the science of chemistry to make innovative products, technologies and services that make people's lives better, healthier and safer. ACC is committed to improved environmental, health, safety and security performance through Responsible Care®; common sense advocacy addressing major public policy issues; and health and environmental research and product testing. ACC members and chemistry companies are among the largest investors in research and development, and are advancing products, processes and technologies to address climate change, enhance air and water quality, and progress toward a more sustainable, circular economy.

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