Fire retardant protection
“ outrageously weak”

UPdate Summer 2007

Canada’s proposed regulations for PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ether) a group of highly toxic chemicals linked to serious human health effects are “outrageously weak,” says Dr. Elaine MacDonald, Senior Scientist for Sierra Legal.

PBDEs are used as fire retardants, and are found in many consumer products including TVs and computers, beds and other plastics. The new government regulations ban the manufacture of PBDEs. That sounds good - but no PBDEs are manufactured in Canada. The regulations ban the use, sale, and import of two commercial PBDE mixtures. But these mixtures have already been phased out of use voluntarily ­ so again, no change.

The big hole is that the regulations do nothing to limit use of decaBDE, which presently accounts for 80% of all PBDE use in North America, Asia and Europe. In Canada, decaBDE is found in home electronics, textiles, carpets, beds and other furniture, wires and other electronic parts. It is commonly found in household and office dust.

PBDEs are highly toxic chemicals linked to serious human health impacts. The developing fetus and breastfeeding infants are likely at greatest risk. All types of PBDEs are carcinogenic, and are known to be harmful to the developing brain, immune, reproductive and hormonal systems.

"Humans are being insidiously exposed to PBDEs through the food we eat and the dust in our homes," said Lisa Gue, environmental health policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation. "New studies have shown that very high levels of PBDEs are showing up in the food chain, including in human breast milk and in children."

The government’s refusal to take effective action in regulating deca BDE angers environmental health advocates. “By not comprehensively banning all PBDEs, notably the deca-BDEs, the Harper government is ... avoiding the most serious aspects of this problem and giving the Canadian public a mistaken impression of action," says Kathleen Cooper of the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA). The federal government listed PBDEs as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) in December 2006. CEPA provides the legal basis to ban use of all PBDEs.

Sierra Legal, the David Suzuki Foundation and CELA have filed a formal legal objection to the government’s inaction on decaBDE under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. They are calling for the establishment of a Board of Review to clarify the significant emerging and complex scientific issues regarding PBDEs.

In April, 2007, Washington State banned all forms of PBDE, including deca. A comprehensive ban is already in place in Sweden. Safer alternatives to decaBDE are on the market, but are not as cheap as decaBDE.