Fire Retardants in Toddlers and Their Mothers
Levels Three Times Higher in Toddlers Than Moms
Gov't and Industry Actions to Phase Out PBDEs
Fire Retardants in Toddlers and Their Mothers: Gov't and Industry Actions to Phase Out PBDEs
The widespread contamination by PBDEs of people, wildlife and the environment is the result of weak environmental laws that allow poorly tested chemicals to be used in consumer products, and a system that is slow to react to evidence that a chemical is accumulating in people. Swedish researchers first discovered PBDEs in samples of mothers' milk in 1999. The discovery was purely accidental, but sleuthing and further testing of stored breast milk samples from the 1970's lead the chemists to the startling finding that concentrations in breast milk had been doubling every 5 years since 1972 (Hooper 2000). In retrospect it seems somewhat obvious that these chemicals would be of concern. PBDEs are closely related to other persistant pollutants, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), which were both banned after researchers discovered that they accumulate in people and wildlife and are toxic. The Swedish government was among the first to ban each of the 3 PBDEs, and scientists note a resulting decrease in levels of these toxic chemicals in their population. The European Union has followed suit. However, U.S. policies leave large loopholes for continued exposure to PBDEs and other harmful fire retardants. Penta and Octa are not manufactured here, but can enter the U.S. in imported products. The safety of Penta replacements has been called into question, and there are no Federal restrictions on Deca use. Facing Federal inaction 11 U.S. states have passed bans, and 4 additional states have proposed or are considering legislation that would ban these chemicals.
International action on PBDEs
Fire retardants are not widely required in foam furnishings outside the U.S. Instead, less flammable materials and control of cigarettes and other ignition sources are used to assure fire safety. As a result Penta PBDE was almost exclusively used in the United States, and residents of other industrialized nations have much lower concentrations of these PBDEs in their bodies. The European Union has been more proactive in dealing with PBDEs than the U.S. Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands banned Penta PBDEs in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The E.U. banned the use and marketing of Penta and Octa PBDE’s in 2003 after evidence of a worrisome increase in PBDE levels in nursing mothers (Meironyte 1999, Noren 2000). Interestingly, PBDE levels in Swedish women appear to have declined significantly since the ban was enacted (Fängstrom 2008). While these regulations also initially included Deca, industry challenged the Deca regulations in court. The highest court in the E.U. recently upheld the ban of Deca in electronics, to take effect July 1st of this year (Betts 2008b). Both Sweden and Norway had also taken actions independently on Deca, with Sweden banning use of Deca starting January 2007 and Norway banning use starting in April 2008. The Canadian government has categorized PBDEs as “toxic” but has yet to take any regulatory actions.
U.S. action on PBDEs
Federal action: Penta and Octa PBDEs are no longer produced in the U.S. but regulatory loopholes provide incomplete protection from these and other toxic fire retardants. In 2004 the Great Lakes Chemical Corporation, the only U.S. manufacturer of Penta and Octa announced they would stop manufacturing the chemical as of January 2005. It is unclear when the final stores of this chemical were depleted. EPA subsequently passed a Significant New Use Rule that disallows Penta and Octa production but the chemical appears to be produced in China, and importing Penta-containing items is still legal. Penta in foam was replaced with newer bromine-containing fire retardants, and other poorly studied chemicals, including Tris--a chemical banned from use in children's sleepware in the 1970s. Penta manufacturers now sell an alternative, bromine-based fire retardant known as Firemaster 550. This product contains poorly studied chemicals that have recently been detected in household dust and sewage sludge (Betts 2008c). There are no restrictions on Deca use at the Federal level.
State Deca bans (enacted)
In the face of Federal inaction many state legislatures have placed restrictions on these chemicals (Curtis 2007, National Caucus of Environmental Legislators 2008). * Maine: Bans use of deca in furniture and mattresses effective as of January, 2008 and use of deca in electronics to take effect in 2010. * Washington: Bans use of deca in mattresses starting in 2008 and in furniture and electronics to take effect by 2011 provided safer alternatives can be found.
State Deca bans (proposed)
* Alaska (HB 271)- proposed ban on sale of items that contain Penta- and Octa-PBDEs and proposed ban on Deca in mattresses and electronics. Current status: Active. Bill Information * California (AB 706) - proposed ban on brominated and chlorinated fire retardants in furniture and bedding to take effect in January, 2010. Current status: Failed to pass the Senate 8/26/08. Bill Information * Connecticut (HB 5805) - proposed ban on Penta- and Octa-PBDE to take effect on July 1, 2008 and proposed ban on Deca in mattresses to take effect in 2010 and in electronics to take effect in 2011. Current status: Active. Bill Information * Hawaii (HB 461)- proposed ban on use of Deca in mattresses, furniture, and electronics to take effect July 2010. Current status: inactive. Bill Information * Illinois (HB 5298)- the state's Environmental Protection Agency has reviewed evidence and recommended that the Governor support a managed state-level phase-out of several DecaBDE’s uses. A proposal to prohibit Deca use in mattresses and furniture, or any other textile product intended for indoor residential use starting in January, 2008 and in electronics beginning in 2011. Current status: active. Bill Information * Maryland (HB 1)- proposed ban on Deca-PBDE to take effect in 2010. Current status: inactive, (failed to pass Senate Committee, April 2008). Bill Information * Michigan (HB 4465)- the state's Department of Environmental Quality recently reviewed Deca toxicity and decided the evidence was sufficient to support a legislative ban on Deca provided that safe alternatives can be found (Michigan DEQ 2008). Proposed ban on Deca-PBDE in furniture and mattresses to take effect in 2008 and in electronics in 2011. Current status: active. Bill Information * Minnesota (SF 651)- proposed ban on Deca in mattresses, furniture, and electronics to take effect July, 2010. Current status: inactive (vetoed by Governor Pawlenty in May, 2008). Bill Information * New York (A 07977, S 05244)- proposed ban on Deca-PBDE in furniture and mattresses to take effect July, 2010. Current status: active.Bill Information * Vermont (H.589, S.260) proposed ban on Deca in mattresses and furniture by 2009 and in electronics by 2011. Current status: active. Bill Information
State Penta and Octa bans enacted
* California: Bans use of Penta and Octa effective as of January, 2006. * Hawaii: Bans use of Penta and Octa effective as of January, 2006. * Illinois: Bans use of Penta and Octa effective as of January, 2006. * Maine: Bans use of Penta and Octa effective as of June, 2006. * Maryland: Bans use of Penta and Octa effective as of October, 2008. * Michigan: Bans use of Penta and Octa effective as of June, 2006. * Minnesota: Bans ue of Penta and Octa effective as of January, 2008. * New York: Bans use of Penta and Octa effective as of January, 2006. * Oregon: Bans use of Penta and Octa effective as of January, 2006. * Rhode Island: Bans use of Penta and Octa effective as of January, 2006. * Washington: Bans use of Penta and Octa effective as of January, 2008.
State penta and octa bans (proposed)
*Alaska (HB 271): proposed ban on sale and construction of products that contain penta and octa. Current status: active. More information at: http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill.asp?bill=HB%20271&session=25 * Connecticut (HB 5805): proposed ban on use of penta- and octa-PBDE to take effect on July 1, 2008. Current status: active. More information at: http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/cgabillstatus/cgabillstatus.asp?selBillType=Bill&bill_num=5805&which_year=2008 Sources: McDonald 2005, Betts 2008c, Environment California 2004, National Caucus of Environmental Legislators 2008 (3/17/08 version), Curtis 2007, Illinois EPA 2007, Maine Department of Environmental Protection 2007, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality 2008.