Lost in the crush of work last week, I didn’t get a chance to post on this news: EPA is finally getting around to taking regulatory action on the most troublesome forms of PBDEs—the toxic flame retardants that are showing up up at alarming levels in people’s bodies. (Shameless self promotion: we found PBDEs in all 40 breastmilk samples we tested.)
Here’s the context: about a year ago EPA announced an agreement with Great Lakes Chemical, the sole manufacturer of the "penta-BDE" and "octa-BDE" formulations of PBDEs, to voluntarily withdraw them from the market. These two formulations are the ones that are most likely to be found in people’s bodies; and the penta form is known to be particularly toxic. But despite that agreement, there was nothing at all to prevent another manufacturer from starting up production, or to stop importers from bringing the compounds into the U.S.
The new proposed rule would require anyone who wants to manufacture or import penta-BDEs or octa-BDEs to first notify the EPA of their intentions. EPA has 90 days to decide whether to let them go forward with their plans.
In one way of looking at things, EPA’s proposal is comically weak. PBDE levels in the U.S. are the highest in the world, and in some people may be approaching the levels that are believed to cause harm in laboratory animals. And the compounds are chemically similar to PCBs, which are known to impair babies’ brain development. There’s no reason in the world that the compounds shouldn’t just be banned outright.
But weak as it is, anything that helps keep PBDEs from entering our kids’ bodies is a welcome step forward.