Lost in all the hubbub over whether TBBPA and its cousins pose an realistic* environmental threat is the basic consideration of why those flame retardant chemicals are used in the first place: to help save lives.
May is National Electrical Safety Month in the US (we may not build much anymore, but we lead the world in calendar promotions), and a chemical supplier named Earthwise has published a pseudo public service announcement reminding that deaths from fires and burns are third leading cause of fatal home injuries in the US.
I won’t deny Earthwise’s agenda here, but let’s keep in mind that while TBBPA may cause harm to humans under certain extraordinary circumstances, it’s nothing compared to the life and property threat a burning electronics device could pose.
*While the literature suggests direct contact with or inhalation of TBBPA can have harmful effects, in practice, this would be rare.
In Europe, the fight against TBBPA continues, but at least this time IPC is on the right side of an environmental witch hunt.
The trade group yesterday issued perhaps its strongest statement yet on the matter, encouraging its members in Germany and Sweden to lobby their respective environmental agencies and government officials to keep Tetrabromobisphenol(a) legal.
In doing so, IPC broke with its recent history of abdicating difficult policy decisions. Faced with a proposed EU ban on lead and other primary elements, IPC took the position that it was a fait accompli, and chose not to rally its members to fight the proposed ban (now known as the RoHS Directive).
What’s interesting here is the similarities in the defense IPC is putting up. Then, IPC acknowledged the anti-lead crowd was using faulty science and that lead in electronics posed no risk to human health or the environment. Yesterday’s announcement, IPC wrote: “TBBPA is a popular flame retardant used in more than 80 percent of the world’s printed circuit boards (PCBs). A comprehensive EU Risk Assessment found TBBPA not harmful to the environment or to human health.”
It’s unclear to me why IPC decided to flip-flop on this one. But I’m glad it did.