Safer Choice

Alternatives Assessment: Partnership to Evaluate Flame Retardants in Printed Circuit Boards

Flame retardants in printed circuit boards logo

In September 2015, EPA’s Design for the Environment Program released a final alternatives assessment for flame retardants in printed circuit boards.  

Read the final alternatives assessment for Flame Retardants in Printed Circuit Boards.

Developed by the Flame Retardants in Printed Circuit Boards Partnership, this assessment provides objective information to 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.

Why did DfE conduct an alternatives assessment?

The level of available human health and environmental information varies widely by flame retardant chemical. In 2006, the electronics industry partnered with EPA's Design for the Environment program to advance understanding of the human health and environmental impacts of conventional and new flame-retardant materials that can provide fire safety for printed circuit boards. Representatives from a wide range of interest groups participated to ensure that a full range of views were considered from the start and that these views were incorporated appropriately into the project's objective, methodology, and assessment.

DfE's flame retardants in printed circuit boards partnership

The partnership released a first draft of the alternatives assessment in 2008 for public comment. The comments from 2008 are addressed in the updated report.

In addition to the hazard assessment of the alternatives, experimental testing started in 2008 at University of Dayton Research Institute and EPA 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 exposures associated with the combustion of this type of electronic waste. Experiments were completed in 2012, and a report was shared with the partnership in 2013.

On December 15, 2014, EPA released the updated draft alternatives assessment of the environmental and human health impacts of flame retardants used or that could be used in printed circuit boards for electronic products, such as cell phones and computers. The purpose of this alternatives assessment is to provide objective information to help members of the electronics industry more efficiently factor human health and environmental considerations into decision-making when selecting flame retardants for PCB applications. The public review and comment period for the draft report closed on February 15, 2015.

This draft assessment provides updated human health and environmental information on flame retardant alternatives to tetrabromobisphenol-A (TBBPA) for use in circuit boards. TBBPA is one of the most commonly used flame retardants for printed circuit boards in electronics.

The report includes a description of differences in combustion by-products from burning printed circuit boards containing alternative flame retardants at temperatures simulating uncontrolled recycling or incineration.

In parallel with this draft assessment, industry trade groups tested alternative non-halogenated flame retardants and found that they function equally as well or better than TBBPA-based circuit boards for certain products.

Flame retardants in printed circuit boards logo

Milestones

All publications from this partnership are available online.

Milestones Completion/Projected Completion Date
Draft report available for review Fall 2008
Complete combustion by-product testing Fall 2012
Updated draft report available for review Fall 2014
Final report Summer 2015
Flame retardants in printed circuit boards logo

Project partners included electronics manufacturers, component and board manufacturers, chemical companies, trade associations, environmental groups, universities, and governments.

Partnership Participants

  • Acer, in cooperation with Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI)
  • Albemarle
  • Bromine Science and Environmental Forum (BSEF)
  • Ciba Specialty Chemicals
  • Chemtura
  • Clariant
  • Clean Production Action
  • Dell
  • Dow Chemical Company
  • Fujitsu Siemens Computers
  • GreenBlue
  • Greenpeace
  • High Density Packaging (HDP) User Group International, Inc.
  • Halogen-Free Flame Retardants Electronics Consortium (HFFREC)
  • Hitachi Chemical Company America, Ltd.
  • Hewlett-Packard Company (HP)
  • IBM
  • ICL Industrial Products
  • IPC - Association Connecting Electronics Industries
  • Intel
  • International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI)
  • Isola
  • ITEQ Corporation
  • Information Technology Industry Council
  • Lenovo
  • Matsushita Electric Works
  • Nabaltec AG
  • Nan Ya Plastics
  • Nokia
  • Panasonic
  • PE International
  • Purdue University
  • Sony Electronics, Inc.
  • Supresta
  • Swedish Institute for Fibre and Polymer Research (IFP Research), in cooperation with KemI
  • Tyco Printed Circuit Group, LP

How do I get more information?

If you would like more information, please contact Laura Romano at romano.laura@epa.gov.