Federal study adds to concerns over toxic flame retardants

It appears that a new nationwide report on PBDEs may set the stage for regulating the toxic flame retardants at the federal level.

John Dunnigan, assistant administrator for the National Ocean Service, called the report a “wake-up call.” See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

But while the federal government is waking up, some state governments are already at work. Washington and Maine are among those that have banned most forms of PBDEs.

By the time the bans went into effect, the industry had voluntarily withdrawn the most dangerous kinds of PBDEs nationwide.

Under Washington state legislation, only Deca-PBDE is still allowed. Deca was banned in mattresses at the beginning of this year and is scheduled to be outlawed by 2011 in all products in Washington except for electrical cable, which slipped through a loophole in the law. Televisions are where most of the remaining PBDEs are found.

Maine will ban all forms of PBDEs by next year, a full year ahead of Washington.

It will be interesting to see how manufacturers respond. If they don’t challenge the ban, they will be required to withdraw PBDEs from the market in Maine. Manufacturers generally agree that they can’t afford to make products for a single state jurisdiction. So, if past practices are an indication, the nation could be free of PBDEs in new products before the U.S. government gets around to acting.

If anyone has specific information about what industry officials are planning in light of Maine’s law, I would like to hear about it.

For further study of this issue:

NOAA report: Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment

      1. Audio interview with Gunnar Lauenstein

Washington state data tables from NOAA report (PDF 192 kb)

Environmental Protection Agency page on PBDEs

Washington Department of Ecology’s Chemical Action Plan, January 2006.

Alternatives to Deca-BDE, Ecology, January 2009

Washington’s PBDE law

“PBDE Flame Retardants in Washington Rivers and Lakes: Concentrations in Fish and Water, 2005-06,” Ecology, August 2006 (PDF 760 kb)

2 thoughts on “Federal study adds to concerns over toxic flame retardants

  1. Well, it’s good to hear that there are steps being made in the right direction. I haven’t researched the details, but the question that jumps out at me after reading the above is: “what steps are being taken to regulate other chemicals so that their environmental impact will be known BEFORE the environment and our children are used as a laboratory to see if the chemicals are safe or not?”

    In other words, isn’t this just one example of a bigger issue? What happens when industry is looking for replacement fire retardants or things to make plastic soft or new fertilizers or pesticides or pharmaceuticals or … doesn’t the fact that we are playing “catch up” with all of these pollutants indicate that larger system of screening new products BEFORE introduction is broken?

    Is there any progess on that front?

    Thanks for all your great articles that bring to light all sorts of things that I could never keep up with otherwise!

  2. John, your question was very timely.

    The EPA is advancing a new approach for evaluating the dangers of chemicals to humans. It is supposed to include rapid-screening without the use of lab animals. I discussed the issue a little more than a year ago on Water Ways. http://pugetsoundblogs.com/waterways/2008/02/22/toxicity-tests-could-focus-on-human-cells-not-animals/

    Last week, the EPA released its final version of the “Strategic Plan for Evaluating the Toxicity of Chemicals.” Go to http://www.epa.gov/osa/spc/toxicitytesting/

    I can’t say how much this relates to common chemicals in use. I have not had a chance to review the report in much detail, but the door is always open here for comments.

    As the EPA states on that Web site, “The new paradigm should facilitate evaluating the susceptibility of different life-stages and genetic variations in the population, understanding the mechanisms by which toxicity occurs, and considering the risks of concurrent, cumulative exposure to multiple and diverse chemicals, while at the same time significantly reducing reliance on animal testing for assessing human risk.”

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