Bromine Science and Environmental Forum (BSEF) (2023)

Bromine Science and Environmental Forum (BSEF) (7)

Bromine Science and Environmental Forum (BSEF)
Front Group for the Bromine Industry

It may sound like an academic body or an environmental organisation, but the BSEF is a lobby group created by PR firm Burson-Marsteller on behalf of the world´s four largest bromine producers, who fear a ban on their toxic products.[1] Created in October 1997, the BSEF is an umbrella group for the two main associations of manufacturers of brominated flame retardants.[2]

(Video) Bromine: Essential for life – an interview with Dr. Gordon W. Gribble

BFRs are chemical compounds used almost everywhere, from electronic and electrical goods, car seats and computer casing to building materials, cables, textiles and furniture. They reduce the risks of fire and their use has boomed since the 1980's. At the same time, however, BFRs pose such serious risks to human health and the environment that they are compared to the environmental toxins DDT and PCB, both banned in the 1970s.

Scientific studies leave no doubt that BFRs accumulate in the food-chain and the environment. Sweden has taken the lead in investigating the effects of these flame retardants, after toxics in the breast milk of Swedish women were discovered in the 1990's. Among the most used bromine flame retardants are PBDEs, which according to scientific studies interfere with the body's hormone system and fetus development, resulting in unusual types of cancer, disturbance of brain development and reduced resistance to disease.[3] Opponents explain that the toxic flame retardants could be replaced by the use of low flammability materials and fire protection systems.

(Video) Bromine and Energy

Why did the global bromine industry hire in the services of Burson-Marsteller to set up the BSEF? The answer is simple: government regulation was on the way. Since the early 1990's, environmentalists as well as the governments of Germany, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries have campaigned for an EU-wide ban on some BFRs.

In 2003, the EU banned the use of two types of PBDEs (Penta-BDEs and Octa-BDEs) as well as PBBs. After that, the main battle was around a possible ban on deca-BDE (deca-brominated diphenyl ethers), which was exempted until a scientific assessment report was completed.

(Video) Meet the Board of BSEF

The BSEF worked hard to steer free of a ban by influencing the debate, for instance by sponsoring studies. The group argues that bromine flame retardants are in fact good for the environment as they reduce fires and therefore pollution. BSEF downplays health and ecological concerns and complains: "It's easy to raise questions in the media and speculate on what might happen. Those raising questions aren't required to have any particular expertise or to have demonstrated knowledge about the existing database. To date, no human health or environmental effects have been associated with the BFRs detected."[4] The BSEF also actively lobbied Commission officials against a ban. In addition, the group has six lobbyists accredited at the European Parliament, including Burson-Marsteller heavy-weight Lawrie McLaren.

In May 2004 the EU regulators responsible for the ten-year long scientific assessment on deca-BDEs came to the controversial conclusion that there is insufficient risk to impose restrictions in the use of the chemical. The BSEF celebrated the outcome, but this may be premature. Some of the findings in the assessment could lead the European Commission to decide to launch a follow-up study on the neurological effects of deca-BDEs. Also concerning the effects of the substance on the environment, the risk assessment recommended continued monitoring.

(Video) Bromine and Mercury Emissions Reduction

Now that an EU-wide ban has become unlikely, the Swedish government has announced that it will move ahead with a national ban on deca-BDEs. Environment Minister Lena Sommestad commented that: "We know that deca-BDE is a persistent substance that spreads in the environment. The best thing to do would be an EU-wide ban. But as things are moving this slowly we must now push the issue ourselves."[5] According to Sommestad, Sweden will also ban flame retardants HBCDD and TBBP-A if the EU has not done so by autumn 2006 at the latest.

Industry reacted swiftly on the Swedish moves which they claimed are "not justified by science and which appears to be a clear case of political prejudice as it deliberately disregards a European scientific assessment."[6] The European Bromine Flame Retardant Industry Panel (EBFRIP) asked the European Commission to act and prevent the Swedish ban.Like most other industry groups fighting regulation, the BSEF argues for voluntary industry action instead. The BSEF has committed to develop, in collaboration with regulators, a programme of emissions reductions and independent environmental monitoring. They also boast of their decision to voluntary abandon PBBs in 2000. Public and political pressure mounted against PBBs, following findings showing serious impacts for human health and the environment. The Swedish Society for the Conservation of Nature is unconvinced by the voluntary measures of the bromine industry: "There is a great risk that the industry will move from known and discredited bromine compounds to unknown ones. We have clear evidence that this is already happening despite the fact that other substances are similar to the known dangerous substances."[7]

(Video) The latest news on Science and Bromine technologies - Let's Talk Bromine

The BSEF has a remarkably aggressive, zero-tolerance strategy towards critics exposing the impacts of toxic bromine products. In a May 2003 letter on behalf of the BSEF, the law firm Harbottle & Lewis urged newspapers and television broadcasters not to cover the warnings against BFRs issued by WWF and other environmental groups. The letter advised the media to consult Lawrie Mc Laren on issues related to BFRs and ended with the following blunt notification: "We should state for the record that our clients will be monitoring future press and media coverage on the issue of BFRs, and will not hesitate to pursue all remedies available to them should there be any incorrect or inaccurate statements in relation to BFRs that adversely affect our clients' businesses."

This brusque approach fits the previous record of the companies that form the BSEF. The core of the group is the four companies that form the oligopoly of the global bromine industry: the Dead Sea Bromine Group (now called ICL Industrial Products), the Albemarle Corporation, the Great Lakes Chemical Corporation and the Tosoh Corporation. As documented by US research group Corpwatch in the report The Bromide Barons, the first three companies have a vast experience in delaying, weakening and even blocking the ban against methyl bromide, a hazardous but highly profitable chemical.[8] Albermarle (which owns the Ethyl Corporation) has a dark history of decades of attempts to delay the phase-out of lead gasoline in the US.[9] It is also hardly surprising that the companies chose Burson-Marsteller to establish a Brussels group. Recent clients of Burson-Marsteller, specialised in challenging cases of 'perception management', include Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC) and the Saudi royal family.

(Video) Bromine and Water Treatment


  1. The four giants are the Dead Sea Bromine Group (now renamed ICL Industrial Products), the Great Lakes Chemical Corporation, the Albemarle Corporation, and the Tosoh Corporation. The two first mentioned companies also use the Burson-Marsteller offices on Avenue Cortenbergh 118 as their Brussels mailing address.
  2. European Brominated Flame Retardant Industry Panel (EBFRIP) and Brominated Flame Retardant Industry Panel (BFRIP), their American counterpart.
  3. Factsheets, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, 2003
  4. Frequently Asked Questions, BSEF website, accessed July 2004.
  5. "Swedes lead way with chemical ban", Roger Falk, European Voice, Vol. 10 N.17: 13 May 2004.
  6. Swedish political decision to commission a proposal to ban Deca-BDE contradicts EU science results, EBFRIP press release, 11th May 2004.
  7. See
  8. Methyl bromide is a byproduct of a highly profitable brominated fire retardant called tetrabromobisophenol-A (TBBA), demand for which increases as computer sales expand. Corpwatch, Bromide Baron Rap Sheet #2, March 31 1997
  9. Cause For Alarm Over Chemicals - Fire Retardants, Maria Cone, Los Angeles Times, 20 April 2003.
    Last year a ban prohibiting penta-BDE and octa-BDE was passed in California (from January 2008). The attempt to include deca-BDE was dropped last month due to industry opposition.
    See also: Inconclusive science prompts lawmaker to table PBDE crackdown, Inside Cal/EPA, Vol 15, n19, May 7 2004.


1. Bromine and Water Treatment
(BSEF – The International Bromine Council)
2. Meet the Experts: Professor Antonio Fernando Berto
(BSEF – The International Bromine Council)
3. Meet the Experts: Jan Noordegraaf, Director of PolyStyreneLoop
(BSEF – The International Bromine Council)
4. pmb bsef xjs 2022 05 25 08 24 GMT 7
(Cortney Guentert Chagas)
5. Meet BSEF’s new Secretary General Michael Hack and discover BSEF priorities
(BSEF – The International Bromine Council)
6. Meet the Experts: Dr. Horrocks on biodegradable bromine and making flame retardants more sustainable
(BSEF – The International Bromine Council)
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