Bromine Science and Environment Forum

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The BSEF and its history

BSEF was established in 1997 and represents four of the world's major producers of brominated flame retardants - based in the US, Israel and Japan. Although the name suggests an academic body or environmentalist organisation, or a coalition of scientists, environmentalists and other stakeholders, in reality BSEF comprises of - and is funded by - the Albemarle Corporation, Dead Sea Bromine Group (now renamed ICL Industrial Products), Chemtura and Tosoh Corporation. [1]

It is represented by the PR giant Burson-Marsteller in Brussels, who are highly experienced in running corporate front groups. Burson-Marsteller also runs several other bromine industry outfits fighting EU bans on chemical products, such as the 'Alliance for Consumer Fire Safety in Europe' (ACFSE) and the European Brominated Flame Retardant Industry Panel (EBFRIP), which consists of three of the four BSEF corporations. [2]

BSEF had hitherto managed to operate relatively unchallenged, but the group ran into heavy criticism due to increasing concern over the use of bromides as flame retardants. The California-based Environmental Working Group, for instance, in a July 2003 report called the BSEF "a lobbying front dedicated to casting doubt on the mounting evidence against brominated chemicals." [3] In a recent Open Letter calling the EU Commission to introduce binding rules on lobbying, BSEF was described as an 'industry front group run from the Brussels offices of a global PR firm, on behalf of chemical industry clients' [4] . This sparked a swift reaction from BSEF, which just a few days later published a statement on a widely read EU-focused news site. In the statement BSEF presented itself as 'dedicated to further the scientific and regulatory understanding of brominated chemicals including flame retardants' [5].

BSEF actually employs no staff of its own in Brussels; everyone working for BSEF from the Cortenbergh 118 head offices is a Burson-Marsteller consultant, from high-level Program Director Lawrie McLaren to Ms Angela Albers of the secretariat. In addition to this, the whole of the BSEF's budget goes through Burson-Marsteller. [2]

Amid growing environmental concerns BSEF more recently has focused its work on 'global environmental and health issues, advocacy and the communication efforts of the bromine industry whilst commissioning science on brominated flame retardants.' [6]

Growing concern over Bromides

In 2013, following significant research carried out by BSEF and its members along side the US Environment Protection Agency, there has been a significant push to phase out from production Bromine Flame Retardants (BFRs), in particular any that contain Penta-BDE, Octa-BDE and of Deca-BDE which were reported to have harmful effects on the environment and also on heath of animals (fishes) and human beings. [7]

The BSEF has established the Voluntary Emissions Reduction Action programme (VECAP), a global programme to reduce emissions of brominated flame retardants from manufacturing facilities. They have also established a universal Code of Good Practice, and by working closely with customers and industry, this works to ensure that brominated flame retardants are properly handled and used during production and processing. [8]

BFRs are chemical compounds used in many products, ranging from computer casings to textiles and furniture, in order to reduce the risks of fire. There were many types of brominated flame retardants on the market, but more recently the debate surrounding potential risks which centred around the polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs became more prominent. Evidence grew that these PBDEs posed a serious risk to human health and the environment and are often compared to toxins like DDT and PCBs, both banned in most parts of the world in the 1970s. Sweden took the lead in investigating the effects of these flame retardants, after toxins in the breast milk of Swedish women were discovered in the 1990's. PBDEs interfere with the body's hormone system and foetus development, resulting in unusual types of cancer, disturbance of brain development and reduced resistance to disease [9]

The BSEF and transparency

The BSEF has faced repeated calls to increase transparency of its workings. Dawson wrote in a December 10 letter to Corporate Europe Observatory that 'There is absolutely no secret about what interests BSEF represents, who its members are, or where our offices are located. All this information is readily available on our website,' Dawson fails to acknowledge that the BSEF website recently has undergone a major overhaul which added a lot of new information.

The four BSEF member corporations, which could previously only be found by clicking a button, are now prominently mentioned on the BSEF home page. The link with Burson-Marsteller was previously not mentioned at all, but after the overhaul curious visitors can discover the connection. A new 'contact' category lists two staff people as working for Burson-Marsteller, including Lawrie McLaren who was previously presented only as BSEF Program Director, and his link to Burson-Marstellar was not made overt.

The BSEF and its 'dark history'

BSEF claims to be 'dedicated to further the scientific and regulatory understanding of brominated chemicals including flame retardants' [2]]. The history of the bromine producers behind the BSEF suggest another story. As documented by the US-based Political Ecology Group in their 1997 report The Bromide Barons, the US companies involved in the BSEF have a track record of blocking, delaying and weakening a US ban against methyl bromide. BSEF member Albemarle Corporation (which owns the Ethyl Corporation) also has a particularly dark history of attempting to delay the phase-out of lead gasoline in the US.

The BSEF has two sets of closely related activities. In the BSEF's own words these are to

  • 'commission science on BFRs and bromine and to educate decision-makers on the results of this science
  • represent the bromine industry on issues of environment and human health' [3].

In reality, however, most of their activities seem to centre on lobbying parliamentarians, government officials and regulators against restrictions on the use of the bromine flame retardants. In 2005, the BSEF were nominated for the 'Worst Lobbying Award', awarded by the Corporate Europe Observatory, for their highly manipulative strategies.

Affiliated bodies

Dead Sea Bromine Group (now renamed ICL Industrial Products)

President and CEO: Yosef Shahar

Major businesses: elemental bromine manufacturing

Operations: 40% of ICL's production and 90% of its sales are outside of Israel [10]. ICL has elemental bromine manufacturing facilities in Israel, and bromine compounds production installations in Israel, Holland and China [11]

The ICL group also own: ICL Fertilizers

ICL Metallurgy

ICL Performance Products

The ICL group are owned by:

Israel Corp. 51.50%

PCS (Saskatchewan) 10.08%

Poalim Provident Funds 4.39%

Poalim Mutual Funds 0.54%

ICL and it's history

ICL Industrial Products are one of the four operating segments of Israel Chemicals (also known as the ICL Group, who are 52% owned by Israel Corporation). The company accounts for about 35% of the world's bromine production. [12]

Great Lakes Chemical Corporation (now merged with Crompton Corp.)

Tosoh Corporation

President: Takashi Tsuchiya

CEO: Madoka Tashiro

Operations: Specialises in inorganic chemicals, petrochemicals, and flame retardant chemicals [4].


PR and Lobbying Agencies

External links, notes

External links

Corporate Europe Observatory, Bromine Science and Environmental Forum (BSEF), Front Group for the Bromine Industry See Sourcewatch:Bromine Science and Environmental Forum

Kern, David. "PC&E Plans $332,500 in Fines Against Plant," (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 15, 1994).

Robert, John C. (1983) Ethyl: A History of the Corporation and the People Who Made It Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1983


  1. Who We Are BSEF, accessed 20 April 2015
  2. 2.0 2.1 Burson-Marsteller Brussels lobbying for the bromine industry Corporate Europe, January 2005, accessed 20 April 2015
  3. Sonya Lunder and Renee Sharp, Tainted Catch Environmental Working Group, accessed 20 April 2015
  4. European Commission Must Act to Curb Excessive Corporate Lobbying Power Corporate Europe, 25 October 2004, accessed 20 April 2015
  5. Home Corporate Europe Observatory, accessed 20 April 2015
  6. Home BSEF, accessed 20 April 2015
  7. Regulatory Ban on Halogenated Flame Retardants to Create Opportunities for its Non-Halogenated Counterparts – Market Insights, accessed 20 April 2015
  8. North America BSEF, accessed 20 April 2015
  9. What are brominated flame retardants? Svenska Naturskyddsforeningen, accessed 20 April 2015
  10. [1]
  11. [
  12. Hoover's Company Overview Israel Chemicals, accessed 20 April 2015