BLUEDGE™ Polymeric FR: A Sustainable Flame Retardant

Foam plastic insulations contain flame retardants to meet stringent fire safety and building code standards that serve to protect the public.  Dow spent years developing a new, more sustainable, flame retardant that would be better for the environment, while still providing the same level of fire safety and insulation benefits. We now use this polymeric flame retardant (Polymeric FR) in our extruded polystyrene insulation (STYROFOAM™), replacing the old flame retardant (HBCD).  By creating a licensing arrangement with the FR supply industry this same Polymeric FR is now being widely used across the industry, in both XPS and EPS foam board, transforming polystyrene insulations into improved, more sustainable products for green builders. 

Governments around the world are applauding this sustainable building solution. Polymeric FR is a highly innovative flame retardant already in use and approved in the United States (EPA Design for the Environment) and the European Union (EU REACH). Regulatory agencies in Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, China, Taiwan, and the Philippines also approve of the Polymeric FR for use in polystyrene insulations. Ecolabels like Nordic Swan designate the Polymeric FR as a positive, sustainable, approved, alternative flame retardant.

Through its Design for the Environment program (DFE), the U.S. EPA determined that Polymeric FR is a significant improvement over the HBCD flame retardant previously used in polystyrene foam insulations.[1] EPA concluded that Polymeric FR (chemical name, Butadiene styrene brominated copolymer) is clearly an improvement over the old technology:

“The hazard profile of the butadiene styrene brominated copolymer shows that this chemical is anticipated to be safer than HBCD. Due its large size, lack of low molecular weight (MW) components, and un-reactive functional groups, human health and ecotoxicity hazard for this copolymer are measured or predicted to be low.”

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This Polymeric FR is exactly what those concerned with green building materials asked for in a flame retardant. It is not bioaccumulative to animals or humans.  It has been thoroughly studied including the degradation behavior in foam insulation and there are no concerns that this technology will break down into toxic chemicals.

Therefore it is not a persistent organic pollutant (POP) as some previous FR technologies and it is not a PBT – persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic. Further its composition makes it an ideal replacement in both XPS and EPS foam processing allowing the entire foam industry to convert without significant reinvestment. 

Considering a foam insulation product is expected to last an average 50 to 75 year in its lifetime in the building in which it is installed, Polymeric FR is persistent by design. Persistence in this case means the insulation board will not break down or degrade in its fire performance while in service. In fact, many insulation manufacturers like Dow provide a 50 year warranty on their products thermal R-value (a higher R-value means the product insulates better) and equally expect the flame retardant to help protect the foam’s fire resistivity for the same service lifetime. 

The U.S. Building industry has worked tirelessly to develop building fire safety requirements including addressing the fire performance of foam plastic insulation over the past 40 years through the building code development process. Use of flame retardants enable foam insulation to meet these stringent requirements. Polystyrene foams utilizing this Polymeric FR technology can now meet environmental considerations while continuing to meet these current industry standards for fire and mechanical performance.

Unfortunately organizations like Green Science Policy Institute and competing insulation manufactures like Rockwool have elected to try and draw concern to the “potential” product breakdown or long term degradation of Polymeric FR. To better fit their anti-flame retardant narrative they continue to cite a degradation study with artificially contrived, unrealistic lab conditions that dismissed performance within the foam insulation which is where it is designed to be used. This study has been used to mislead architects, designers, builders, consumers and code officials by generating unsubstantiated concern around these artificial lab conditions in an attempt to discredit this new innovation designed to move an entire industry forward.

The world's leading experts on bromine-based technologies have swiftly confronted this same study for being "partisan" and "unprofessional." The International Bromine Council (BSEF), a global organization of scientists and engineers working on bromine-based technologies, is voicing strong concerns with the unprofessional methods on display. BSEF secretary general Dr. Kevin Bradly calls on study author Christoph Koch to account for “withhold[ing] from the reader clearly relevant data, thus giving a distorted and erroneous picture” of the facts. That is because Koch’s own research in a companion study shows that the potential degradation products have toxicity that is “rather limited or even not occurring”.  Koch’s findings in that companion study actually showed that the PolymericFR has very good thermal stability and that it will not break down significantly due to heat, and importantly there are no hazardous materials formed from the heat degradation that might occur over decades and centuries. 

As noted earlier, Polymeric FR has already been approved as a safe alternative to HBCD in the United States, European Union, and eight other countries. It also is the only FR used in polystyrene insulation exempted for use by the Nordic Swan Ecolabel which normally excludes the use of brominated FR’s for certification. This label covers Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland.  Polymeric FR has allowed a global industry transformation where many foam insulation manufactures, both XPS and EPS, have converted or are converting to a commercially viable, more sustainable alternative than HBCD. Most importantly, our customers can rely on our foam products continuing to meet fire performance requirements mandated by building and fire codes to insure public safety.

Want to know more about Polymeric FR? Let’s breakdown the facts:

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[1] EPA Design for the Environment Alternatives to Hexabromocyclododecane(HBCD), Final Report, June 2014

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