Because of our work on PBDEs—the flame retardant chemicals that are showing up at alarming levels in northwesterners’ bodies—I’ve set up a Google alert that lets me know whenever something new is published that contains the word "PBDE". I was hoping to keep abreast of new scientific findings, or maybe new policy developments that I might not otherwise get wind of. But most of what I’ve gotten has been just P.R. announcements—fake news stories, really—from companies crowing that they’ve phased PBDEs out of their products. Just today, for example, Hewlett-Packard announced that they’ve already gotten rid of PBDEs from their plastic electronics casings, and are soon to phase out another brominated flame retardant.
Right now, I’d say that the industry P.R. makes up the large majority of the PBDE news that Google sends me in any given week.
At first, I found the stream of P.R. annoying. But now I realize that, far from being junk, the steady drip of PR news has become a real story in itself. It wasn’t long ago that the electronics industry was begging for exemptions from PBDE phaseouts, saying that they simply didn’t have any viable alternatives to the compounds. But, apparently, the engineers have had a chance to do some tinkering, and are finding that they can get along well enough without them.
Which suggests that getting rid of PBDEs completely may be a lot easier than the industry lobbyists had predicted. Which should come as little surprise. Time and again, industrial engineers have shown that they’ve got the creativity to solve pollution problems quickly and cost effectively. Sometimes, all it takes is to give their higher-ups a little kick in the pants.