On March 8, 2021, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published an updated scientific opinion on its risk assessment of the brominated flame retardants (BFRs) hexabromocyclododecanes (HBCDDs; CAS 3194-55-6). The opinion concludes that current dietary exposures do not represent a health concern except for breastfed infants, but it also gave specific recommendations on how to improve the risk assessment in the future.

BFRs such as HBCDDs are added to a variety of consumer products including polystyrene (PS) packaging to improve their fire resistance. The presence of HBCDDs has been associated with toxicity affecting neurodevelopment, the liver, thyroid hormone homeostasis, and the reproductive and immune systems. Concerns have also been raised following the widespread detection of HBCDDs in the environment, food, and humans.

Because of these health concerns and their ubiquitous presence, the use of HBCCDs in the EU was only allowed after authorization was issued in August 2015. In this authorization, the European Commission (EC) requested EFSA to update its 2010–2012 risk assessments on the different families of BFRs. EFSA’s Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM Panel) developed a new draft scientific opinion on HBCDDs which underwent a public consultation from 14 October to 25 November 2020. This latest opinion took into account new data and scientific information which had been submitted after 2011. The results presented in this opinion support the conclusion that current dietary exposure to HBCDDs in EU countries does not present a health concern, except for breastfed infants.

The panel also gave the following recommendations on how to improve the risk assessment in the future which included conducting (1) toxicological studies assessing individual HBCDD stereoisomers most relevant to human exposure, (2) research with a focus on neurodevelopment, reproductive effects, possible diabetogenic and obesogenic effects as well as (3) are larger longitudinal epidemiological studies with sufficient exposure.

The CONTAM Panel has said that it will evaluate in the future whether it could be appropriate to apply a mixture approach in an additional scientific opinion as soon as the risk assessment for each family of BFRs has been updated.

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Chemical Watch (March 31, 2021). “HBCDDs in food not a health concern, EFSA experts conclude.”

EFSA (March 8, 2021). “Update of the risk assessment of hexabromocyclododecanes (HBCDDs) in food.

EFSA (January 25, 2021). “Update of the risk assessment of hexabromocyclododecanes (HBCDDs) in food.” (pdf)