Smart discussion about toxics policy reform

Flame Retardant May Flame Out

When giant companies volunteer to phase out a money-making product, it’s big news. This week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and three chemical manufacturing or import companies announced a deal to phase out the toxic flame retardant Decabromodiphenyl ether (Deca), heavily used in consumer electronics, furniture, textiles and plastic shipping pallets.

The voluntary agreement would end production, importation and sales of Deca for most uses except for transportation and military needs by December 2012 and for remaining uses by the end of 2013.

Companies involved in the deal are the two U.S. manufacturers of Deca – Albemarle Corporation of Baton Rouge and Chemtura Corporation of Middlebury, CT – and ICL Industrial Products of Israel, the largest U.S importer of Deca.

Japan’s Tosoh Corporation is the only Deca manufacturer not part of the arrangement with EPA.

Steve Owens, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, said:

“Though DecaBDE has been used as a flame retardant for years, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has long been concerned about its impact on human health and the environment.”

The deal came just two days after Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) introduced a bill to force a Deca phase-out. Pingree’s Decabromine Elimination and Control Act of 200 (H.R. 4394) would ban Deca in all products, including those designed for children, by the end of 2013. The bill mirrors Maine’s state-wide Deca phase-out, passed in 2007.

EPA’s Owens said that EPA had determined that DECA poses significant risks to human health. “Studies have shown that decaBDE persists in the environment, potentially causes cancer and may impact brain function,” he said.

In the environment, Owens said, “DecaBDE … can degrade to more toxic chemicals that are frequently found in the environment and are hazardous to wildlife.”

Children appear to absorb higher levels of the chemical. In 2008, pioneering research by Environmental Working Group produced the first-ever detection of Deca in the blood of American children. The children in the study had higher blood concentrations of Deca than their mothers.

The EPA-industry agreement doesn’t limit Deca imports by Tosoh or any other manufacturer. It also allows Deca to be imported in finished products. Pingree’s bill, if enacted would end these uses and ensure that substitutes for Deca are thoroughly tested and are safe. Most important, action by Congress would give the phase-out the force of law.

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