Jacob de Boer in discussion about harmful flame retardants in Science

VU professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology Jacob de Boer is involved in a discussion about flame retardants in the scientific journal Science.

09/20/2019 | 2:24 PM

In an opinion piece in Science in April this year, AIMMS researcher Jacob de Boer, along with his American co-author Heather Stapleton, filed a call to the government and other authorities to ban the industry from continuing to produce harmful halogen-containing flame retardants.

There has now been a response to this opinion piece in Science by three toxicologists from the North American Flame Retardant Alliance (NAFRA). The authors of this article accuse De Boer and Stapleton of treating all halogen-containing flame retardants in the same way and making no distinction between the different types. This generalization would not do justice to the possibilities that halogen-containing flame retardants offer. According to the authors, there are already new halogen-containing flame retardants that are harmless to people. The industry is busy developing and improving this type of new flame retardant.

Vicious circle
Why does the industry at all focus on halogen-containing flame retardants? De Boer and Stapleton wonder in their response to this in Science. In recent decades, research showed over and over that  halogen-containing flame retardants can endanger humans and the environment. Every time a so-called ‘improved type’ comes on the market. This replacement is then extensively tested by toxicologists for many years and is often found to be equally harmful, but in the meantime the damage has been done and a toxic substance has been circulating worldwide in the environment, write De Boer and Stapleton.

Workers should break this vicious circle and put much more pressure on companies to make safe products. De Boer and Stapleton repeat their position from their first opinion piece in April: “There are good alternatives without the harmful halogens in it. Most halogen-free flame retardants are better at suppressing smoke and they reduce the release of hazardous gases during combustion."