At PFB Corporation, we are concerned with the future of the planet and the effects that modern lifestyles may be having on the environment. At the core of our culture, our beliefs are based on sustainable development principles and we are committed to conducting our operations responsibly and mindful of the economic, environmental and social impacts of our operations. We have always placed environmental protection at the highest level of importance in our products, our processes and our practices. We are working hard to insure that “Better Building Ideas from PFB” meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs; both, in the products that we manufacture and in the manner that we conduct all our operations.
EPS foam products provide architects, builders, contractors and homeowners with a highly effective choice for insulating homes and buildings. The thermal protection provided by insulating materials reduces the consumption of natural resources for heating and cooling and in turn reduces emissions of greenhouse gases.
Many materials including thermal insulation, textiles, furniture and electronic equipment commonly found in homes and buildings contain flame retardants to reduce the effects of fire on people and property. Expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam products use a very small amount of brominated flame retardant, hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), in order to meet strict building code fire performance requirements and permit safe handling and storage. Environment Canada and Health Canada published a Screening Level Risk Assessment report of HBCD in November 2011. The report concluded that “HBCD is not entering the environment in a quantity or under conditions that constitute or may constitute a risk in Canada to human life or health” but that HBCD meets the criteria to be labeled as toxic to the environment. Risk assessment by the European Union concluded HBCD contained in EPS foam products poses no risk to workers or to consumers during their service life. Both Canada and the EU have concluded that HBCD is persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic to the environment and have therefore proposed risk management measures that would eliminate the production and use of HBCD by the end of 2016.
Prior to 2013 no commercially available alternate flame retardant for use in EPS foam insulation existed. Commercial production of an alternative has now begun and availability of the alternative is starting to increase in North America. PFB has been working with flame retardant suppliers to test the new alternative and its suitability with our polystyrene process formulation. Research and development activities continue. Final 3rd party certification testing is scheduled and must be completed before full implementation of the new flame retardant can be completed. The new brominated polymeric flame retardant has been deemed much safer than HBCD by the US EPA in a special Design for Environment (DfE) report, “Flame Retardant Alternatives for Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD)” published in June 2014
Click on a topic below to learn more.

Why use Flame Retardant What is the Alternative Flame Retardant and Why is it Safer than HBCD?
Health and Environment Product Stewardship
Regulatory Status  

Why Use Flame Retardant

All construction materials must adhere to fire safety requirements during their manufacture, transportation and storage. Flame retardant used in EPS insulation allows it to meet building code fire performance requirements for use as a component in building assemblies and permits safe handling and storage. A small amount of highly effective brominated flame retardant is added during the manufacturing of the raw material. Flame retardants work to delay the ignition of polystyrene foam insulation and slow the propagation of flame.

Bromine containing substances continue to be the most effective flame retardants for polystyrene materials. The new safer alternative flame retardant also utilizes bromine’s unique properties. The new flame retardant is safer than HBCD because of its low toxicity and low bioaccumulation rating.


Health and the Environment

HBCD has undergone a thorough risk assessment by Environment Canada and Health Canada. The report issued in November 2011 concluded HBCD current usage in Canada does not pose a health risk to humans but is harmful to the environment, in particular to aquatic life (see excerpts from the risk assessment report below);

Based on the information presented in this screening assessment, it is proposed that HBCD is entering the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that have or may have an immediate or long-term harmful effect on the environment or its biological diversity.

Based on the adequacies of the margins between estimated exposures to HBCD and critical effect levels, it is concluded that HBCD is not entering the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health

It is therefore proposed that HBCD meets one or more of the criteria set out in section 64 of CEPA 1999. In addition, HBCD meets the criteria for persistence and bioaccumulation potential as set out in the Persistence and Bioaccumulation Regulations (Canada 2000).(1)

HBCD has undergone a thorough risk assessment for environmental and human health in Europe by the ECHA, the European Chemicals Agency(2). The conclusions of this scientific assessment identified no risk to consumers or the general public. HBCD is not classified as a human carcinogen, mutagen or reprotoxic. Concerns surrounding HBCD are related to its toxicity to certain species in the aquatic environment and the degree to which it may bioaccumulate and persist in the environment.

Current information available indicates that HBCD is retained within the EPS polymer matrix and as such does not represent a risk to the environment during the service life of EPS foam products.

HBCD has been identified as a PBT (persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic) due to its toxicity to aquatic organisms and its high level of persistency in the environment.


Regulatory Status


In Canada, a screening level risk assessment concluded HBCD is toxic to the environment and recommends addition of HBCD to Schedule 1 of the CEPA 1999.(1) The report concludes that HBCD meets the criteria for virtual elimination. A proposed draft risk management plan has been published which would ban the manufacture and use of HBCD in Canada effective end of 2016.

Commercial availability of the safer alternative continues to improve as flame retardant producers increase production. However availability is still much smaller than the total amount required to replace all the HBCD consumption.

European risk assessment completed by Sweden in 2007 concluded HBCD met the persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) criteria. The risk assessment report concluded there is no risk to humans from HBCD contained in polystyrene foams.(2) In 2012 HBCD was placed on the priority substance list with a sunset date of August 2015.

Stockholm Convention on POP (persistent organic pollutants has added HBCD to Annex A and will enter into force November 2014.

United States
As part of the EPA’s HBCD Action Plan the Design for Environment (DfE) program conducted a review of HBCD alternatives and published the final report in June 2014(3). The EPA concluded that the brominated polymer alternative flame retardant is safer than HBCD.


What is the alternative flame retardant and why is it safer than HBCD?

The alternative flame retardant identified for polystyrene foam is a butadiene styrene brominated copolymer (CAS # 1195978-93-8). This polymeric flame retardant molecule is much larger than HBCD and therefore it has extremely low mobility out of polystyrene and is not readily absorbed by organisms or humans. Therefore the new alternative flame retardant is not a PBT because it does not meet the criteria of biaccumulaive and toxic.

The EPA assessment report “FLAME RETARDANT ALTERNATIVES FOR HEXABROMOCYCLODODECANE (HBCD)”, June 2014, conducted as part of the Design for Environment program concluded;

“The hazard profile of the butadiene styrene brominated copolymer (CAS RN 1195978-93-8) shows that this chemical is anticipated to be safer than HBCD. Due to 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.”

The EPA assessment concluded that the new flame retardant (butadiene styrene brominated copolymer) has a low level of toxicity and bioaccumulation rating in comparison to HBCD (see excerpt table below)(3).

PBT - persistence, bioaccumulative and toxic
Regulatory agencies assess chemical substances based on three criteria; persistence, bioaccumulative and toxicity. Persistence refers to how long a compound, if released, will take to degrade in the terrestrial (land) and aquatic environments. Bioaccumulative refers to the degree to which a compound will remain in living organisms and build up over time. Toxicity refers to the degree to which a chemical has or may have a harmful effect on living organisms.


Product Stewardship

During the manufacture of EPS resin, emissions of HBCD have been controlled to prevent significant impact on the environment. HBCD currently found in the environment was released in the past due to poor control practices and aging equipment by HBCD producers and users.

In Europe HBCD producers and consumers have implemented significant changes to equipment and processes to eliminate emissions of HBCD to the environment. Emission reduction programs such as SECURE (Self Enforced Control of Use to Reduce Emissions) and VECAP (Voluntary Emissions Control Action Programme) have been implemented in Europe and Japan. These emission reduction programs appear to be having a positive impact and recent studies indicate reductions in HBCD found in the environment.(1) By employing strict product stewardship practices, emissions can be virtually eliminated to prevent any potential impact on the environment.

PFB Corporation has applied the VECAP principles since 2010 in our single Canadian EPS resin manufacturing plant and we continue to utilize these emission controls.

PFB continues with the necessary research and development steps to introduce the new safer alternative and expects to have the final certification steps completed by end of 2014. PFB’s polystyrene resin will incorporate the new safer alternative once the certification is complete and commercial availability becomes more reliable.


Updated Links
1) Screening Assessment Report on Hexabromocyclododecane, Chemical Abstracts Service Registry Number 3194-55-6, Environment Canada & Health Canada, November VIEW NOW

2)RISK ASSESSMENT, Hexabromocyclododecane, CAS-No.: 25637-99-4, EINECS-No.: 247-148-4, Final report May 2008 FINAL APPROVED VERSION VIEW NOW


4) HBCD Factsheet, October 2012, Bromine Science and Environmental Forum (BSEF VIEW NOW