Life Cycle Assessment is carried out in four distinct phases as illustrated in the Figure a. below. It is a technique by which the environmental impacts, associated with a product’s life from production to destruction, can be assessed.
The phases are often interdependent in that the results of one phase will inform how other phases are completed.
Life Cycle Assessment methodology and practice has undergone substantial changes throughout modern industry. Much of this has been a result of the ISO standardisation work which, in turn, was influenced by industry experiences.
As a result, several new concepts have emerged such as Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) and Carbon Footprint.
Many downstream industries e.g. building and construction, electrical and electronics producers together with the plastics industry, have adopted their own distinct sustainability strategies and this furthermore advances world standardisation.
Figure a. Phases of Life Cycle Analysis
As an industry, EFRA and all its member companies are totally committed to the guiding principles of Responsible Care® in the production of flame retardants and to taking a pro-active approach to product stewardship, particularly to the control of emissions during the production, application, service and end-life of our products.
Through continued co-operation with national and international regulatory bodies, manufacturers of flame retardants strive to gain a thorough understanding of the environmental effects of their products.
(see ‘Flame Retardants- Frequently Asked Questions' edited in 2007)
Product Life Cycle impacts of flame retardant use
Life cycle assessment (LCA) studies aim to assess the overall environmental impact (energy and resource consumption, pollutant emissions) throughout the life of flame retardants, with the aim of comparing different production options or materials.
Flame retardants are evaluated individually in scientific risk assesments which account for their toxicological properties, as well as the environmental fate and exposure of each substance.
However, the standard LCA method excludes the impact of accidents, such as fires or accidental pollution incidents.
In the case of the assessment of flame retardants (FRs), used specifically to prevent and reduce the impact of accidental fires, it becomes essential to take the effects of accidental fires into account. This then enables comparisons of the overall environmental impact of using, or not using, flame retardants in different consumer products.
The standard Life Cycle Analysis methodology has therefore, been adapted by the Swedish National Testing and Research Institute SP and the Swedish National Environment Research Institute –‘IVL’, to include the environmental impacts of accidental fires.
A general “Fire-LCA” model has been developed, and its application to TV sets, upholstered furniture and cables has been carried out. Thus, the number of such fires of different scale is estimated using real fire statistics.
Figure b. General Fire-LCA model
The Fire-LCA model (which is a traditional LCA with the added inclusion of emissions from fires being the only modification) needs a complex and wide range of different input data:
- energy consumption and pollution emissions in the manufacture of the product considered
- these factors specifically for the production of the flame retardant chemicals
- energy recovery and pollutant emissions related to the end-of-life disposal of the product.
- estimated product life time of the sofa, which affects how all the above are taken into account
- the estimated number of accidental fires related to the product, with or without flame retardants, and the corresponding pattern of extent and gravity of these fires. These figures can be derived from real fire statistics data.
- the emissions of different pollutants for different accidental fire scenarios (product only burning, fire spreading to a whole room or to a whole house). These can be calculated on the basis of results from full-scale sofa and furnished room fire tests.
For fires involving consumer goods, considerable statistics are available, which enable the estimation of fire occurrence and the fire tests experimental data, to calculate related emissions.
Modern TV sets
These represent a significant fire load and can themselves be the initial cause of fires; faults in high-voltage internal circuits, dust accumulation or contact with external heat sources, e.g. candles.
Using TV-related fire statistics to assess the full life cycle of the TV sets (emissions in manufacture, disposal and in accidental fires), poorly flame retarded TV sets (HB) as currently sold widely in Europe, were compared with higher fire safety sets (V0) as sold in the USA. The flame retarded TV showed overall :
⇒ slightly lower emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons : HCl, HCN
⇒ higher HBr and SO2 emissions
⇒ very similar energy use, CO2 and particle emissions;
⇒ but considerably lower total emissions of both PAH (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) and dioxins/furans.
The Fire-LCA thus aims to establish a complete comparative balance of environmental impacts and pollutant emissions for manufactured goods with or without flame retardants.
CASE STUDIES for LCA of Consumer Products
“Fire-LCA Model: TV case study” Report 2000:13 (Swedish Environmental Institute)
Comparison between the significance of the PAH emissions relative to the TCDD-equivalent emissions was conducted using a modification of the Unit Risk Factor cancer risk model.
Results are summarised in the table below and clearly indicate that PAH emissions are far more significant than TCDD-equivalent emissions in this case.
Fire LCA of electrical cables
“Fire-LCA model: cables case study”, Brandforsk Project 703-991, SP Report 2001:22
Electrical and data cables present a significant fire load in buildings. In this case, the fire LCA study compared two different materials used for cable sheathing, both with similar fire resistance characteristics. Statistics were used to estimate the number of fires confined to cables only, and the number originating in cables but spreading to a room or whole house.
The total life cycle emissions for the two types of cables are similar for most pollutants studied (list as above in TV study). Accidental fires made only a minor contribution to cables’ lifetime emissions for certain pollutants (eg. 5% for NOx –nitrogen oxides) but were a major contributor of carbon monoxide (CO), unburned hydrocarbons (PAH), dioxins/furans and sulphur dioxide (SO2) for both types of cable.
Fire LCA of upholstered furniture
"Fire-LCA Model: Furniture Case Study" SP Report 2003:22, ISBN 91-7848-958-X, 2003
Fire statistics from the UK were used to assess the changes in the number and extent of fires resulting from a move to fire resistant furniture. The UK introduced in 1988 Furniture Fire Safety Regulations requiring domestic upholstered furniture to resist ignition by a small flame, whereas previously in the UK, and still today in the rest of Europe, furniture is only resistant to ignition by a smouldering cigarette and can be readily ignited using a small lighter.
The pollutant emissions from accidental fires of different gravity (extent of fire), involving flame retarded or non flame retarded furniture were obtained, using full scale fire tests on both commercial sofas and on fully furnished test rooms at the Swedish Environmental Institute fire test facilities.
Accidental fires were responsible for a significant portion of the life cycle total emissions of hydrogen cyanide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and TCDD/TBDD-equivalent (dioxin/furan equivalents).
Non flame retarded sofa as used in tests, approx 15 minutes after ignition by a small flame
Source : EFRA pdfLCA090206-1_00
A non-flame retarded sofa was used to represent the mainland Europe market and two different (commonly used) flame retardant procedures were used to represent the UK market.
Calculated total sofa life cycle TCDD/TBDD-equivalent emissions were higher for the flame retarded sofas, but the total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) emissions were higher for the non flame retarded sofas, because of the higher frequency and gravity of accidental fires.
See Full report presenting the Fire-LCA methodology developed by SP Sweden: ‘Fire-LCA Guidelines’, SP Report 2004:43 available at www.sp.se/fire
A comparison between the relative importance of PAH and dioxin and furan emissions using a modified cancer risk model, clearly shows :
The level of PAH emissions is of far greater significance than that of dioxins and furans.
Thus, based on PAH emissions, the environmental risk associated with flame retarding a sofa is outweighed by the impact of fire emissions associated with non flame retarded sofas.