Moves to Ban Toxic Flame Retardants
* The chemicals, called PBDEs, prevent fires but are believed harmful
to developing brains. The bill, which drew no GOP votes, goes to
California Assembly on Tuesday passed a bill that would ban use
of toxic flame retardants that are building up in the bodies of
people and wildlife around the world.
are alarmed by the compounds because concentrations in American
women and their babies are approaching levels that scientists believe
can harm the developing brains of newborns and young children.
European Union has already banned the two types of flame retardants
targeted in the bill, but their use is unregulated in the United
enacted, the the law would make California the first state to regulate
use of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. The bill now goes
to the Senate, which will begin debate this summer.
were designed to protect the public from fires by suppressing the
flammability of plastics and polyurethane foam in upholstery, building
materials and electronic equipment, including TVs and computers.
Assembly bill would ban the manufacture and use of two types of
PBDEs beginning in 2008. Known as penta and octa PBDEs, they are
applied mostly to upholstered furniture and building materials.
is an incredibly significant step. If California does it, it's only
a matter of time now before the rest of the country catches on,"
said Dan Jacobson of the environmental group Environment California.
Greg Aghazarian (R-Palm Desert) said the restrictions are premature,
saying it's not "a sky-is-falling situation."
not jump the gun," he said. "If we jump the gun, we are
taking off the market the most successful [flame] retardant known
other Assembly members said many companies already are phasing out
PBDEs. For example, IKEA has a policy of selling only PBDE-free
furniture, and IBM, Apple and other major electronics manufacturers
are phasing out the chemicals.
it were a choice between people dying in fires and children's health,
"that would be a very hard choice to make," said Assemblywoman
Wilma Chan (D-Alameda), the bill's author. But, she said, "there
are alternatives to these chemicals. "
pass through a mother's womb and are readily absorbed by a fetus.
Scientists have determined that a single dose of PBDEs given to
newborn mice and rats disrupts their developing brains, causing
measurable changes in learning ability, memory, behavior and hearing.
alter brains when exposure comes during a critical phase of growth,
toxicologists say. That period lasts from the third trimester of
pregnancy to a child's second birthday.
have also shown the compounds are as potent and long-lasting as
DDT and PCBs. Although those two compounds were banned in the U.S.
three decades ago, residues are still widely found.
chided conservative members of the Assembly for supporting protection
of fetuses in the form of anti-abortion legislation but not backing
protection from industrial contaminants. "For our unborn children,
we do not want this chemical going through mothers' placentas,"
Republicans voted in favor of the bill, which passed 45 to 29 after
a 20-minute debate. Some said they wanted more proof that the risks
from the flame retardants outweigh the benefits.
the debate, Chan won the support of many legislators and businesses
by removing restrictions on the PBDE compound used in electronics
and delaying the ban by two years. On Tuesday, she removed provisions
that would have required warning labels on products in 2005.
amounts found in people and wildlife throughout North America are
doubling every two to five years, a growth rate unprecedented for
any chemical in half a century, scientists say. Americans carry
on average 10 to 70 times more PBDEs in their breast milk, tissues
and blood than Europeans.
likely, PBDEs are being ingested from consuming fish and inhaling
particles and gases given off by furniture in homes and offices.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is conducting a risk
assessment of PBDEs, has no current plans to regulate them. Industries
used 135 million pounds of PBDEs in 2001, half of them in the U.S.