Bummer. Looks like some scientists have found that ordinary bacteria can break down “deca-BDE”—the 10-bromine form of a class of toxic flame retardants known as PBDEs—into substances that are even more toxic.
So far, deca-BDE—which is used as a flame retardant in consumer electronics and hard plastics—has escaped the restrictions placed on the penta- and octa-BDE formulations that, until recently, were used widely in furniture foams and industrial fabrics. Certain kinds of penta-BDE, in particular, have been linked with behavioral abnormalities and memory losses in rodents, and are readily absorbed into people’s bodies.
But the bromine industry (among others) have pointed to studies showing that deca-BDE is relatively nontoxic, and that the deca-BDE molecules are too large to be easily absorbed into human tissues.
That may be right—sort of. Deca-BDE does harm brain development in rodents, and is absorbed into people’s bodies; but probably isn’t as hazardous as the other kinds of PBDEs.
But so what? So what if deca-BDE, on its own, is less hazardous than the other forms of the compound? If bacteria (or carp, or sunlight for that matter) can break down the ten-bromine version of PBDEs into the more toxic forms with just 5 or 6 bromines, then there’s still a risk that unabated use of deca-BDE represents an ongoing threat to the developing brains of infants.
And apparently an unnecessary threat, too.
This seems like an area where a little regulatory action could do a lot of good.