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Life After Deca: Flame Retardants Becoming More Specialized, Masterbatches More Challenging

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The plastics industry lost its most versatile and effective flame retardant (FR) when decaBDE was phased out over environmental and health concerns in 2012. Deca was a broad-spectrum FR that worked well with many resins. In January of this year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final report on alternatives for deca, identifying 29 potential candidates, both new and old, for use in select polyolefins, styrenics, engineering thermoplastics, thermosets, elastomers or waterborne emulsions and coatings.

In June the EPA provided a similar assessment for hexabromocyclododecane or HBCD, another effective FR from the halogenated group (those containing chlorine or bromine) widely used in XPS and EPS foam by the building industry. The agency noted that bromine-based FRs are still “the only commercially and technically viable options for polystyrene foam insulation.” This observation summarizes the biggest challenge facing compounders in the wake of deca’s demise – matching FRs to resins has become a highly specialized science. Deca was to the FR plastics business what type-O negative is to a blood bank.  It’s as close to universal as the world has known.

Plastic Color Corporation’s Development Engineer David Witt says the high loading ratios of some non-halogenated FRs makes them quite challenging to use in masterbatches. Witt, who guided development of PCC’s FlamaSol® line of decaBDE replacement flame retardants, says that a general rule with low-halogens and non-halogens is “when you change resins you change flame retardants.” With the FR regulatory environment in flux, he adds that it never hurts to have your FR match relevant compliance criteria as well as the resin. “Usually when customers call we’re asking what regulation or standard they’re trying to meet – ISO, UL, ASTM, etc.,” says Witt.

Earlier this year California relaxed its longstanding requirement for polyurethane foam used in furniture to be treated with a flame retardant. In the spring Coca Cola announced it would stop using brominated vegetable oil (BVO) in many of its drinks including Powerade.  The move was in response to a Mississippi teenager’s 2012 petition originally aimed at Pepsi to remove BVO from its Gatorade line of sports drinks. Simply being associated with anything bromine was reason enough for the change.  The Gatorade petition garnered over 200,000 signatures.

Still, it’s hard to deny the effectiveness of bromine and other agents in suppressing unwanted fires. A recent study on the heat release of polymers affirmed the effectiveness of FRs, concluding “flame retardants do indeed improve fire safety… and that a key reason for the beneficial effect of flame retardants is that they decrease heat release.”

With an obvious need and strong demand for flame retardants in plastics, PCC continues its efforts to develop effective, compliant products for a variety of resins with the goal of expanding our FlamaSol system from olefins, PE and PP, into Styrenics, Nylons, Polyesters, and a range of other thermoplastics.

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