MDEQ Seeks to Extinguish PBDEs

MDEQ Seeks to Extinguish PBDEs

What do people have in common with birds, polar bears, sharks, Great Lakes fish, sediment in Lake St. Clair, and household dust? We all contain Deca-PBE, a chemical fire retardant within the family of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). (The prefix ‘Deca’ represents the ten bromine atoms attached to the diphenyl ether molecule). PBDEs slow down the spread of flames during a fire and are incorporated into upholstery and other fabric and the plastic casings of computers and other electronics as well as small appliances.

But, scientists, environmentalists, and fire fighters are learning that PBDEs can be toxic. Research has shown PBDEs are linked to liver toxicity, thyroid toxicity, and neurodevelopmental toxicity in animal and toxicological testing. Michigan has already banned the manufacture, use, and distribution of the two most toxic forms: Octa- and Penta-BDE. Now the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is recommending the ban of Deca-BDE, the third and final commercial PBDE formulation currently produced, in a 2007 Draft Report on PBDEs titled “Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers: A Scientific Review with Risk Characterization and Recommendations”.

The MDEQ is not alone with their concerns. The states of Maine and Washington have already passed legislation banning Deca-BDE. Legislation in California is pending. The International Association of Fire Fighters is applauding these efforts.  In a formal letter addressed to the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, they state, “…the IAFF believes that the passages of legislation banning brominated flame retardants (Polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs) including Penta-, Octa-, and Deca-BDEs) is a step in the right direction for improving the health and safety of our fire fighters and the citizens who are exposed to these. The letter goes on to explain that, “Unlike other flame retardants, when PBDE’s burn they release dense fumes and black smoke that reduce visibility and a highly corrosive gas known as hydrogen bromide.”

Household products, however, don’t have to catch on fire to release PBDEs. According to the MDEQ’s report, “Household dust has been shown to contain high concentrations of PBDEs…This is a concern since children ingest a greater amount of house dust than adults due to their frequent hand-to-mouth activity…The primary source of exposure to Deca-BDE is likely to come from its use in household consumer products. A ban on the use of Deca-BDE in household products would significantly reduce exposures and subsequently, reduce body burden levels in humans.”

To minimize exposure:

  • Use a moist cloth when dusting at home. Dry dusting simply distributes particles into the air, making them easier to breathe.
  • Cover or replace cushions on sofas, chairs and car seats where the foams pads are exposed.
  • Buy from retailers and manufacturers that have stopped using PBDEs such as Dell, Hewlitt-Packard, Ericsson, Intel, and IKEA.
  • Remove the fat from fish when preparing or cooking. PBDEs are stored in the fatty tissue of animals.

For more helpful tips on limiting exposure to PBDEs go to the Oregon Department of Human Services factsheet:

Fall 2010 update

House Bill 4699, banning deca-BDE in all products sold in the state by 2014, overwhelmingly passed the Michigan House 94-6 in January 2010. The bill was introduced by Representative Deb Kennedy (D-Brownstown). The bill now waits in the Senate Government Operations and Reform Committee chaired by Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester).

For more information on efforts to protect Michigan children from PBDE flame retardants, visit the Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health (of which LocalMotionGreen is a member).

-Melissa Cooper Sargent, Fall 2007 (updated Fall 2010)

Click MDEQ Seeks to Extinguish PBDEs to download a printable pdf version of this article.

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