Some cheery news for Monday:  The Olympian, Washington’s capital city newspaper, reports that the state departments of ecology and health are proposing further steps to eliminate PBDEs, a toxic flame retardant, from commerce.  And I imagine that some state legislators are paying close attention to those recommendations as they gear up for the legislative session next January.

  • Just to recap—PBDEs are flame retardants used in furniture foams and plastics, but have some disturbing similarities to their chemical cousins, the PCBs.  Both classes of compounds have been found to affect neurological development in lab animals, and PCBs are known to cause developmental delays and deficits in children.  Scientists routinely find PBDEs in samples of food, housedust, and human breastmilk and body fat—and levels in North America, where the use of the most troublesome forms of the compound has been concentrated, are the highest in the world.

    Last year the Washington legislature funded a PBDE action plan for the state, but delayed action on a bill to actually remove compounds out of commerce.  Meanwhile, the manufacturer of the kinds of PBDEs most often found in people’s bodies has stopped manufacturing the compounds, under an agreement with the US EPA.  Still, one type of PBDEs are still used widely in commercial electronics and other applications (though, apparently, many manufacturers have managed to remove all PBDEs from their supply chain).

    Today’s news means, in essence, that departments of health and ecology are leaning towards a more comprehensive ban of PBDEs.  As summarized by the Olympian:

    The two agencies recommend that the Legislature:
    * Ban the manufacture, distribution or sale of new products containing Penta or Octa [which are the most problematic forms of the compounds].
    * Ban the use of Deca [the PBDEs that are still in widespread use] in electronic components, as long as safer fire retardants are available or if additional studies show that Deca harms human health.
    * Consider a ban on Deca in products that don’t already contain it, but could in the future, including textiles and mattresses.
    * Continue research on PBDE alternatives and monitor the levels of PBDE in the environment.

    These are all good steps.  Of course, it would have been nice if the same level of caution had been exercised before PBDE contamination became so widespread.