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Global standard mandating flame retardants defeated by civil society

Publish date: April 28, 2008

Written by: Eivind Hoff

BRUSSELS - On April 25th, a clause in a draft standard that would have led to the use health-hazardous flame retardant chemicals in the majority of consumer electronics was defeated in a vote in the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the world standardisation body for electrical and electronical equipment.

The disputed clause draft standard would have put the majority of electronics used in the home, such as TV sets, computers and CD/DVD players to withstand a three-minute vertical candle flame ignition test.

“It was a fanatical proposal to reduce fires. There are no reliable fire data proving the need to protect electronic products from candle ignition. Yet the standard would have led to an increase in the use of health hazardous flame retardants in the range of hundreds of thousands of tonnes. Both the environment and human health would have suffered,” says Marius Dalen, in charge of The Bellona Foundation’s work on toxic substances.

Bellona and other environmental groups across the world mobilised to convince their respective countries to vote against the draft standard. The Norwegian IEC member was at first inclined to accept the standard, as its purpose was to reduce the risk of fires, but after input from a number of civil society organisations it decided to vote against. Eighteen ghteen of the 34 member countries voted against taking the draft forward toward adoption.

“We had to balance the aims of fire safety against environment and health protection. Input from environmental groups was crucial in helping us to achieve consensus that the proposed standard was not justified,” says executive director of Norway’s Electrotechnical Committee (NEK), Tore Trondvold.

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