Successful mobilisation against IEC standard on flame-retardants

A worldwide coalition of scientists, physicians and NGOs have achieved a successful campaign against an unecessary IEC standard that would have dramatically increase the use of toxic flame retardants. ECOS has been involved at European level in this mobilisation.

The proposed new draft standard IEC 62368 by the International Electrotechnical Commission on safety requirements in electronics, which could have led to the introduction of hundreds of millions of pounds of potentially toxic fire retardant chemicals into consumers’ homes and bodies, has been defeated. Eighteen of the 31 voting countries, or 58%, voted against the IEC draft standard based on new information provided by the coalition. This was far more than the 25% needed to defeat the standard.

The Clause 7 of this draft standard, which would have required plastic enclosures for household electronic products to withstand candle flame ignition, had no valid fire safety rationale but enormous potential negative consequences. The Clause promoted as an enhanced fire safety standard in fact had limited potential to affect fire safety as appliance fires represent only a small number of the total candle fires. In the US – which has the best fire data in the world – all appliance fires caused by candles amount to only 3% of total candle fires and result in no deaths according to a 2007 report by the National Fire Protection Association.

In order to meet the requirements outlined in this draft Clause 7, producers would have needed hundreds of millions of pounds of potentially toxic fire retardant chemicals that can migrate out of consumer products into dust, humans and animals where they persist and bioaccumulate.  Many peer-reviewed scientific papers provide evidence of environmental toxicity as well as negative health impacts in many species including humans. Fire retardant chemicals used in electronics and many other products can cause neurological and reproductive impairments such as hyperactivity, mental retardation, reduced sperm count, reproductive dysfunction, thyroid abnormalities, endocrine disruption or cancer in animals exposed to them. These negative impacts have led to an ongoing stream of restrictions by governments around the world on the use of a series of fire retardant chemicals in consumer products.

This Clause 7 was initiated and promoted by the fire retardant chemical industry through the US National Association of State Fire Marshals. Through its extensive lobbying, this industry has nearly succeeded in making the candle flame ignition requirement a “fait accompli”, in the opposite direction of the electronics industry’s desire is to improve the environmental performance of electronic products.

However, the efforts of the fire retardant chemical industry to promote candle standards for consumer electronic housings are not over. There are two other draft IEC standards, revisions of IEC 60065 (TV and audio equipment) and IEC 60950 (IT equipment), that incorporate this same Clause 7 candle flame resistance requirements.

(Based on the press release “Scientists, Researchers, NGOs, & DCA Lead Electronics Industry to Environmental Victory”).