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Following the ban on a number of brominated flame retardants, compounds used to mitigate incendiary risks of a wide range of consumer products, halogen-free flame retardants have been proposed as alternatives despite the fact that they have been put on the market without a thorough understanding of their environmental risks. Research by Susanne Waaijers now published in the top-journal Environmental Science & Technology shows that the toxicity of two of these alternatives may in fact be greater than previously thought if their long term effects are taken into account.

Water fleas are commonly used to assess environmental hazards (photo: Paul Hebert)


Concerns about the persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) have led to a ban on the production and use of many of these compounds. The growing need for suitable alternatives has seen the increasing use of halogen-free flame retardants (HFFRs). The environmental behaviour and toxicological properties of these compounds are known only to a limited extent and their potential impact on the environment has not yet been properly assessed. Waaijers’ study was part of the European FP7 ENFIRO project which studied the environmental, toxicological and technical properties of HFFRs in comparison with those of BFRs.

Water fleas as tool for measuring environmental hazards

Waaijers, who currently works as PhD researcher at the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED), examined the environmental hazard of two of these HFFRs by testing for their chronic toxicity using water fleas as part of the ENFIRO project. The results published in Environmental Science & Technology showed that the toxicity of the alternative flame retardants increases with increasing exposure time with unanticipated specific effects on the reproduction of water fleas. These results contributed to the identification of the most favourable replacements for BFRs that are currently widely incorporated in consumer products.

Read the article at the publisher’s website

Visit the website of Susanne Waaijers