IN THE NEWS ~ Feds release plan to ban flame-retardant chemical

PUBLICATION: The Leader-Post (Regina)
DATE: 2009.03.28
BYLINE: Sarah Schmidt
Canwest News Service

Feds release plan to ban flame-retardant chemical

The federal government released a plan Friday to effectively ban a widely used chemical used as a flame retardant in televisions, computers and other electronics after determining its detrimental effects on the environment outweigh the benefit of slowing the spread of fires.

The Department of Environment stated in a formal notice of pending regulations that DecaBDE, part of a family of synthetic chemicals known as polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants, or PBDEs, have become so ubiquitous in the environment that this step in electronic equipment is needed because "they have or may have an immediate or long-term harmful effect on the environment or its biological diversity."

Environment Canada is proposing to limit the concentration of DecaBDE to 0.1 per cent by weight.

George Enei, acting director general of science and risk assessment, said it would be "technically" possible for an electronic manufacturer to add the flame retardant.

But he said the ministry is working with the industry to provide a better substitute.

"This is the level whereby its release would not pose a harm to the environment."

The Health Department also announced a 60-day consultation to bring in controls "on DecaBDE in domestic and imported manufactured products."

Environmental Defence, which has been lobbying for a ban and highlighting safe alternatives, says there is enough evidence to identify DecaBDE as a developmental toxin affecting the brain, immune, reproductive and hormonal systems. The breakdown begins during normal use of products, which makes household dust the largest exposure source and of particular concern to small children, said policy director Aaron Freeman.

"We are delighted to see the government take action on this chemical. This is a serious win for Canadians' health and the environment."

DecaBDE have also been on the radar of firefighters after studies found they have a greater risk of contracting cancer and heart and lung disease from flame retardants, which become particularly toxic when burning. Jim Lee, head of the Canadian office of the International Association of Fire Fighters and assistant to the general president, said he'd eventually like to see an effective ban extended to other household products in which the toxic flame retardant is used -- such as furniture, carpets and textiles, but this is a great first step to protect the health of firefighters.

"They can move into other products that it's actually used in, but this is an exceptionally good first step on behalf of the government. This is something, I think, that's going to make firefighting that much safer overall," he said.

"Cancer and firefighters is at an epidemic level," said the 30-year veteran firefighter for the City of Toronto, adding it's time for the manufacturing industry to use safe products to slow the spread of fire "that will do the exact same thing but will not have the same effects that the other product does."

The issue of controlling this chemical in consumer products has been before Parliament since May 2007, when New Democrat MP Peter Julian tabled a private member's motion that called on the federal government to ban the production and import of consumer products containing PBDEs. He reintroduced it again earlier this year.

Julian, the NDP's international trade critic, put forward the proposal after the government announced plans in December 2006 to ban two other types in this group of synthetic chemicals used as flame retardants, excluding DecaBDE. At the time, the other two mixtures, PentaBDE and OctaBDE, were already being phased out voluntarily, while DecaBDEs were the most prevalent ones in use.