Empa and ETH chemists lay the foundation stone for the risk evaluation of brominated flame retardants
Brominated for eternity
Chemically-based flame retardants have paved the way for many plastics to become ubiquitous materials in our daily life. However, what protects plastics and similar substances from fire on the one hand represents a potential risk to the environment, the animal kingdom and humankind on the other. Empa chemists have now taken a close look at hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), a widely used bromine-containing fire retarding agent. The investigation revealed that HBCD occurs in several different forms, or so called stereoisomers. In cooperation with the ETH Zurich, the Empa researchers have developed an analytical technique which allowed them for the first time ever to identify eight different HBCD stereoisomers and determine their structure. The complicated molecular geometry of the substance has important implications – only two isomers accumulate in fish tissue. How the HBCD types otherwise differ must be investigated further, for only then can a comprehensive risk evaluation of HBCD be made, according to the Empa scientists.