by Matt Prindiville, NRCM Toxics Project Director
Senator Goodall, Representative Duchesne and members of the Natural Resources Committee. My name is Matt Prindiville. I am the Clean Production Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. NRCM strongly supports LD 1568, and we thank Representative Pingree for bringing this issue to the attention of the committee and for her continued leadership on public and environmental health issues.
Well, this feels like dejavu. Here we are, three years after the previous iteration of this committee voted to get deca out of consumer products, and it’s back. Unfortunately, it would seem that we’re playing whack-a-mole with this chemical – get it out of consumer products, it shows up somewhere else. If this isn’t the poster child for a broken chemical safety system, then I don’t know what is.
Fortunately, in large part because of the efforts of this committee and Speaker Pingree, and the other state legislatures that have also worked on safer chemicals policy, we have collectively advanced this issue to the point where there is now a robust, national effort at the federal level to reform our nation’s chemical safety system. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the top 5 priorities of the Environmental Protection Agency moving forward. This committee should be proud of that.
And also as a direct result of Speaker Pingree and this committee’s leadership in 2004 with the bans on penta and octa-brom and in 2007 with the deca ban, and now Representative Chellie Pingree’s bill to ban it once and for all for the whole nation, the bromine-chemical industry has announced a voluntary-phase-out of the chemical over 4 years. So we should be getting the champagne out and celebrating, right?
Well, almost. We know how much trouble it takes to get Congress to pass anything. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust the bromine chemical industry to hold up their end of the bargain. After all, you might remember that just a few years ago, they poured huge amounts of money into a failed campaign to kill Speaker Pingree’s bill to phase deca out of consumer products.
So deca is still deca and deca is still here, and that’s why we’re still here. 120 million pounds – that was the estimated amount of deca used worldwide in 2007 when we banned its use in consumer products. At that time, we were told by the chemical industry that consumer products made up 80% of the market for deca, so roughly 95 million pounds of the chemical was going into consumer products, mostly consumer electronics.
So now we’ve got deca in plastic shipping pallets, and one company, iGPS, is the manufacturer putting the deca into to the pallets. They say about one pound of deca per 40 pound pallet. With 5 million pallets on the market and a whole lot of potential for growth over the next several years, we’re talking tens of millions of pounds of deca being put into pallets if you don’t act.
Now I’ve met with the representatives from iGPS and I’ve researched their company and business model. If you take out the deca, I think they’ve got a great product. Durable plastic pallets that are lighter, saving on fuel and lowering carbon emissions. Pallets that can be continually be collected, recycled and reground into new pallets – hmmm… sounds like product stewardship, to me.
Anyway, iGPS realizes that they made a mistake. They should have probably realized that three years ago when they started using deca in the first place, but that’s in the past. Today, they want to get out of it, and we commend them for that.
iGPS has told us and shown evidence that they’ve spent some money looking into alternatives for deca that meet their product specifications. They’ve told us that the alternative flame retardants have not yet matched their product specs because they make the pallets less durable. They believe they’re close, but need more time than the bill currently allocates to make the switch.
Now, we’ve recently learned and seen documentation that one of their competitors has a plastic pallet approved for use in the United States, that is flame retarded with a safer, phosphorus based flame retardant. It meets the same fire safety standards, and according to their competitor, it is plenty durable. It’s also, while approved, not currently on the market.
Deca is on its way out, regardless of this bill. What is critical is that we don’t replace it with something equally as toxic or slightly less bad. All the bromine industry has to do is take out a few bromine atoms here, add something else, and it’s no longer deca. It’s now another toxic flame retardant that can be marketed as an alternative to deca in the marketplace. So the safer alternatives language in the bill is essential as you move forward. Unnecessary dangerous chemicals like decaBDE should be replaced as soon as practicable whenever safer alternatives are available, effective and affordable.
On the timeline, we are working with all the parties to determine what date is achievable as soon as practicable, and what measures will be taken to ensure that decaBDE is not replaced with hazardous alternatives. And that we hope to reach agreement on that in short order.
NRCM is not in the business of helping one company out at the expense of another. We’re also not wading into the issue of whether wood versus plastic is better for the environment. That’s not what this bill is about. This is about deca, and it’s about closing the loophole that allows a major new use of deca to proliferate. We’re in the business of protecting the environment and protecting people’s health. And we know you are too. We’re committed to working with you and the companies as we move forward on this issue.
Thank you and I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.