Flame Retardants in Printed Circuit Boards Partnership - About this Project
The report Partnership to Evaluate Flame Retardants in Printed Circuit Boards (PDF) (273 pp, 9.1MB, About PDF) remains in draft pending completion of combustion testing experiments.
Why did DfE conduct an alternatives assessment?
Printed circuit boards are commonly found in electronics in consumer and industrial products, including computers and cell phones. Manufacturers generally produce printed circuit boards with flame retardants to help ensure fire safety. Over 90% of the printed circuit boards produced meet the UL 94 V0 standard for fire safety . This can be achieved by the use of brominated epoxy resins in which the reactive flame retardant tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA) forms part of the polymeric backbone of the resin. These UL 94 V0 compliant boards are referred to as FR-4 boards, which must meet other performance specifications as well.
In 2006, little information existed regarding the potential environmental and human health impacts of alternative flame retardants. The electronics industry formed this partnership to develop information that will improve their understanding of the environmental and human health impacts of new and current materials that can be used to meet the fire safety requirements for circuit boards. Information from the partnership will allow industry to consider these impacts along with cost and performance of circuit boards as they review alternative materials and technologies. Participation of all interest groups was aimed at ensuring that the full range of views was considered from the start of the project and that they were incorporated appropriately into the project objective and methodology.
This partnership report provides objective information that will help members of the electronics industry more efficiently factor human health and environmental considerations into their decision-making when selecting flame retardants for PCB applications.
Scope of the partnership
The partnership incorporated life cycle thinking into the project as it explored the potential hazards associated with flame retardants and potential exposures throughout the life cycle of flame retardants as used in FR-4 printed circuit boards. The scope included aspects of the life cycle where public and occupational exposures could occur. For example, consideration of exposures from incineration or burning at end-of-life was included, as were exposures from manufacturing and use.
The initial hazard assessment was conducted using EPA's criteria for the New Chemicals Program under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to evaluate hazard concerns for each flame retardant formulation. The analysis explored hazard data associated with potential exposure scenarios. The partnership did not conduct a full risk assessment. The project is not a life cycle assessment, which inventories inputs and outputs from all (or most) processes throughout the life cycle and evaluates the environmental impacts associated with those inputs and outputs.
In addition to the hazard assessment of the alternatives, experimental testing was conducted as part of this project to learn more about the combustion by-products released during end-of-life disposal processes of printed circuit boards. Open burning and incineration scenarios were simulated for different combinations of circuit board laminates and components. The laminates tested contained either a brominated flame retardant, a halogen-free flame retardant, or no flame retardant. Halogenated dioxins, halogenated furans, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons emitted during combustion were measured to better understand the risks associated with the combustion of this type of electronic waste. The partnership report will be updated to reflect findings. Experiments were completed in 2012 and a report is in preparation.
How do I get more information?
If you would like more information, please contact Emma Lavoie of DfE at Lavoie.Emma@epa.gov or 202-564-0951.