Flame retardants used in fabrics, foams, and various other plastics have helped to stop fires and save lives. However, many of the brominated ones, including PBDEs, are toxic. They can permanently damage brain and reproductive systems and cause learning disabilities in children.
Scientists have learned that PBDE flame retardants steadily migrate from the products to which they were added and build up in the fat tissue of people and animals. This has prompted bans and phase-outs in Europe and several states.
Fortunately, there are effective flame retardants already in widespread use that are far safer, and do not build up in people and animals and persist in the environment.
In 2004, the Maine Legislature banned two of these dangerous PBDE flame retardants, setting the stage for a three-year fight to ban “Deca,” the last commercial PBDE flame retardant and the most widely used.
In 2007, NRCM worked in conjunction with the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine to pass a law to phase out Deca in electronics, and prohibit its use in new mattresses and home furniture. This nationally precedent-setting law effectively eliminates Deca from commerce as it sends a message to the marketplace that alternatives should be chosen to protect public health and the environment.
Here are the facts:
Deca Causes Learning Disabilities
- Deca delays brain development and causes adult learning and behavior problems in lab animals exposed early in life. In mice, Deca produced irreversible changes in brain function that worsened with age in adult mice. This is the same health effect seen for brominated chemicals already banned in Maine.
- Deca degrades into other brominated chemicals that are even more toxic and easily absorbed by humans and wildlife.
- The levels of brominated chemicals in people’s bodies are doubling every 2 to 5 years, and are 40 times higher in North America than on other continents.
- Maine scientists say their findings: “indicate[s] that Deca can degrade into other congeners suggests that it is a potential human health risk.”
Young Children Face the Most Threat
- The latest research shows toddlers have higher levels of Deca in their blood than older children, who in turn have higher levels than adults.
- Children pick up Deca mostly from eating and breathing contaminated house dust.
We Can Have Fire Protection Without Poisons
- The entire computer industry and some television makers already use safer alternatives that meet the highest fire safety standards without the use of Deca in the plastic casings.
- Mattresses do not require Deca to meet the tough federal fire safety standards that went into effect in July 2007 for home uses. Many safer options are available.
Banner photo: Houston Brook Falls by NRCM member Sam Horine