Jose Mercury News
8 July 2003
considers restricting flame-retardant chemical
Don Thompson, Associated Press
- The state's top environmental official on Monday backed a proposal
to make California the first state to ban two forms of chemicals
used as flame retardants.
Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Winston Hickox cited research
showing the chemicals commonly used in upholstery, electronics and
other foam and plastic products accumulate in the blood of mothers
and their newborn children.
lawmakers are considering restrictions similar to those recently
adopted by the European Union, which will ban their use by mid-2004.
Though some U.S. manufacturers have voluntarily stopped using what
are collectively known as PBDEs - polybrominated diphenyl ethers
- Hickox said the chemicals should be regulated nationally.
Wilma Chan, D-Oakland, said she hopes approval of her proposed California
ban "will spark the rest of the nation to take action."
was an earlier trendsetting move by California in the mid-1970s
that prompted manufacturers to search for flame retardant chemicals
including those the state now wants to ban, said Leif Magnuson,
a pollution prevention coordinator with the U.S. EPA. The state
set fire retardant standards for flexible foam used in upholstered
furniture that "has become sort of the de facto industry standard,"
the last nine months, the U.S. EPA has asked manufacturers to disclose
their toxicity studies, which are currently under review. Magnuson
expects a decision by year's end to seek more study; to ask for
voluntary restrictions; or to ban use of the chemicals, though that
step would be "very unlikely."
the face of federal "inaction," Hickox said the state
should ban chemicals that he said "raise serious public health
questions." There are other less dangerous fire retardants
available, Hickox said.
level of the chemicals found in European women's breast milk declined
after the ban there, and Hickox said he expects similar results
in California if the ban is adopted.
research partly developed by the state EPA, Hickox said the chemicals
can disrupt the thyroid and hurt children's brain development.
March, California researchers reported that Bay Area women have
three to 10 times greater amounts of the chemical flame retardant
in their breast tissue than either European or Japanese women. Indiana
University researchers reported at the same time that levels in
Indiana and California women and infants tested 20 times higher
than levels reported in Sweden and Norway, where the ban is set
to take effect this year.
study published by the journal Environmental Science & Technology
in 2001 found North American mothers had breast-milk PBDE levels
at least 40 times the highest concentrations found in Sweden. And
in 1998, Swedish scientists reported levels of PBDE in breast milk
had increased 40-fold since 1972.
levels in North American women are the highest in the world and
are nearing levels that have been shown to damage learning, memory
and behavior in laboratory mice, Hickox said. The chemicals have
been widely found, from San Francisco harbor seals to Great Lakes
birds and Arctic polar bears.
in effect to PCBs and DDT - chemicals banned decades ago in the
U.S. - PBDE is what's called a persistent organic pollutant, or
POP. Such chemicals are persistent in two ways: they remain in the
environment for years, and they can build up in the body over a
bill is pending in the Senate after it was approved in the Assembly
without Republican support. It would ban by 2008 two industrial
formulations of PBDEs: pentabrominated diphenyl ethers (penta BDEs)
and octabrominated diphenyl ethers (octa BDEs), both banned in Europe.
form, decabromodiphenyl ethers (deca BDEs), commonly used in televisions,
computers, stereos, and plastic toys, also is being banned in Europe
but would not be affected by the California legislation because
it does not appear to accumulate in tissues as readily.
health and environmental groups backed her legislation; there were
no groups in opposition. A telephone message was not immediately
returned Monday from the Chemical Manufacturers Association, which
has a Brominated Flame Retardants Industry Panel.
the bill, AB302, at www.sen.ca.gov