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State Panel Recommends Ban on Toxic Flame Retardant

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Medical, health, and environmental groups urge swift passage of pending legislation to protect health, Great Lakes, & firefighters from “the next PCBs”
August 4, 2008

Ann Arbor, MI – The state’s Interdepartmental Toxics Steering Group just released the long-awaited final report on the hazards of the common flame-retardants, Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs), which are under intense scrutiny by the Michigan Legislature because of concerns they are ending up in the Great Lakes and in people.

The report makes an unequivocal call for “a legislative ban on Deca-BDE contingent on the availability of a safe alternative,” significantly boosting efforts to quickly pass HB 4465, which would phase-out deca-BDE, the only remaining commercial type of PBDE, in four product categories for which safer alternatives are already being used.

The panel, led by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, found that deca-BDE “has been shown to cause neurodevelopmental effects and reductions in thyroid hormone levels in developing animals.” The report also states that people have “significant potential for exposure to Deca-BDE” due to its widespread use in household products and that deca-BDE has been widely detected in the Great Lakes region and in the tissues of humans, fish, birds, polar bears, and sharks. PBDE’s are very similar in chemical structure and behavior to PCBs.

“The report sets out a clear direction for the state to move away from the use of a toxic chemical that ends up in our children and in all of us, as well as in our lakes, streams, and fish.” said Ken Fletcher, of the Michigan Nurses Association. “We strongly urge swift passage of this legislation to protect public health.” In animal studies, exposure to deca-BDE has resulted in adverse impacts on the liver, brain, reproductive system, and thyroid. It’s also considered a possible human carcinogen.

HB 4465 – which would phase-out deca-BDE in mattresses, residential furniture, televisions, and computers – is currently being debated by the House Committee on Great Lakes and Environment.

The bill is supported by a diverse coalition of groups including the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Michigan Nurses Association, the Learning Disabilities Association and the major environmental groups in the state. Both the Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union and the Michigan Association of Fire Chiefs support the bill. The Association noted “when PBDE compounds are exposed to fire they burn and release dense fumes and a highly corrosive gas known as hydrogen bromide which expose firefighters to additional chemical hazards,” and further noted “there are readily available substitute products that do not exhibit these effects.”

“The nation’s leading manufacturers are moving away from deca-BDE because there are readily available alternatives that have been shown to be safer,” said Genevieve Howe, of the Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health. “If Dell, Sony, Phillips, Sealy, Serta, Simmons and many other major manufacturers can agree that this chemical is too hazardous, our state leaders need to follow suit.”

Some of Michigan’s leading companies no longer add this chemical to their products including Steelcase, Herman Miller, and La-Z-Boy. “Now we need Michigan legislators to take the next step and phase out deca-BDE from other uses to truly protect kids and the environment,” said Katie Kelly of Clean Water Fund.

In 2004, Michigan banned the only other PBDEs that are used commercially, penta- and octa-BDE. That legislation called for the DEQ to determine the risk posed by the release of other PBDEs to human health and the environment. New evidence demonstrates that deca-BDE can break down into the already banned penta and octa.

“It’s time to finish the job and phase-out this toxic flame retardant,” said Mike Shriberg, PhD, Policy Director for the Ecology Center. “Michigan should follow the lead of other states and phase out this toxic flame retardant before we have another PCB on our hands. The ‘Great Lakes State’ needs to stand up for the health of the Lakes and mitigate yet another chemical disaster in this ecosystem.”

The full report is available at MDEQ’s website as “PBDE Background Paper 5-2008

The Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health is a coalition of health professionals, health-affected groups, environmental organizations, and others dedicated to a safe and less toxic world for Michigan’s children.

For press questions, please contact:
Ken Fletcher, Michigan Nurses Association: 517-349-5640 x226
Gen Howe, Ecology Center: 734-761-3186 x115