Inorganic bromides: why they are essential and what is at stake
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Inorganic bromides: why they are essential and what is at stake

Aug 18, 2023

By Michael Hack | BSEF


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Inorganic bromides are naturally present in the environment and are essential to life. They are also essential to a large variety of industries, where they are safely used. Michael Hack, Secretary General at BSEF, explains the importance of inorganic bromides and calls for a science-based and proportionate regulatory framework.

Michael Hack is Secretary General at the International Bromine Council (BSEF), the global representative body for bromine and bromine technologies producers.

No life without bromide

In 2014, Prof. Billy Hudson of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (USA) and his team added bromine as the 28th chemical element considered as life essential. Their study concluded that bromine is an “essential trace element for all animals […] from primitive sea creatures to humans”. Nonetheless, bromine never occurs as such but as bromide, ubiquitously present in the environment in particular in seawater, foods, and well waters. People are exposed to some level of bromide every day. In 2009 the World Health Organisation (WHO) established the acceptable daily intake of bromide for an adult at 24 mg/day, far above the levels normally encountered, estimated at 2 to 10 mg/day.

Essential and safely used by industry

Bromide is used to make agricultural fumigants, industrial dyes, fire retardants, water purification compounds, medicines, industrial sanitisers. Bromide and the products made from it make everyday life better and safer.

Compounds derived from bromide such as inorganic bromides are important industrial chemistries that are used in many manufacturing processes but often as pure compounds in oil drilling fluids, or to remove mercury from coal fired power plants. In these applications deep water oil recovery is made safer and more efficient through the use of these compounds and surface waters protected from mercury contamination. “Inorganic bromides do their share in securing Europe’s energy supplies, and in its transition to a net-zero future” says BSEF.

Ensuring regulation delivers benefits

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is currently assessing the toxicity of various inorganic bromides, namely calcium, sodium and potassium bromides and the need to impose regulatory management schemes beyond current practices. One would expect this process to be based on sound science and to ultimately result in improved chemical safety, taking into full account the useful and necessary uses of these compounds. It would also be prudent for regulation to consider natural background levels and common public exposures as a guide to appropriate outcomes.

Industrial uses of bromide compounds are done by professional, trained and informed companies with robust worker safety and environmental stewardship. These are demonstrable facts that should be taken into account and deemed to be the right balance between regulatory goals and societal needs. “Our downstream users could face significant technical challenges and cost increases without any benefit in terms of safety” says BSEF. A rigorous evaluation and consultation process with stakeholders is the best guarantee to ensure scientifically grounded decisions that bring real benefits.

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No life without bromideEssential and safely used by industry Ensuring regulation delivers benefits