• by: Jessica Manzano
  • recipient: Enact legislation to ban the use and import of PBDEs in the United States.

POLYBROMINATED DIPHENYL ETHERS (PBDEs), are toxic persistent chemicals that are showing up at increasing levels in humans and a range of animals, from orcas to polar bears.

Widely used as fire retardants in mattresses, furniture, clothing and electronic equipment, PBDEs remain in the environment, in ordinary house dust and in leachate from landfills where PBDE-treated materials have been discarded.

Levels of PBDEs in the breast milk of North American women have been doubling every five years and are now 20-40 times higher than women in Japan and Europe.

Many of the health effects are as yet unknown, but PBDEs are chemically related to highly toxic PCBs. Research has already linked PBDEs to neurological damage, thyroid damage, with potential for both reproductive effects and cancer. Fetal exposure to minute doses of brominated fire retardants at critical points in development can cause deficits in sensory and motor skills, learning, memory and hearing. PBDE-treated equipment also generates toxic chemicals when it burns, creating an additional hazard for firefighters.

In 2004, the European Union passed legislation to ban PBDEs and a number of states in the U.S., including California, Maine, Washington and Hawaii, have done the same.

There are many alternatives available to PBDEs as fire retardant materials.

Therefore, we, the undersigned, call on the federal government to enact legislation that would ban the manufacture, use and import into the United States of America any form of PBDEs and any materials containing PBDEs.

Further, we urge support of initiatives that would lead to such government action.


Expanded reading of the above...

Industrial PCBs and the pesticide DDT were the first to leave a terrible toxic legacy for all future generations on the planet. Now a group of related chemicals known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are posing a new risk as these persistent toxins appear in the bodies of humans and animals around the world, from the industrial heartland to the high Arctic.

PBDE levels are rising
In use since the 1970s as fire retardant chemicals in mattresses, furniture and electronic equipment, PBDEs have lingered in the environment. They show up in house dust and leach out of discarded materials in landfills. Over time, they accumulate in animal fat, becoming more concentrated up the food chain.

Tests of PBDE levels in women's breast milk have revealed that accumulations are doubling every four to five years. According to a new survey completed in 2005, North American women currently have PBDE levels that are 20-40 times higher than European women, largely because of the greater use of PBDEs on this continent. The increasing levels are troubling because recent research has shown that PBDEs are showing health effects at levels equal to, or even lower than the levels that many people may be carrying in their bodies. This is of particular concern to infant health because the fetus and the developing child are more sensitive than adults to the effects of chemical compounds.

(Please Note: Breast milk is best! Even women with very high levels of fire retardants in their breast milk should continue to breastfeed their babies. There are two main reasons why. First, adverse effects on learning and behavior are strongly associated with fetal exposure to persistent pollutants, not with breast milk exposure. And second, breastfeeding appears to overcome some of the harmful effects of high fetal exposure to persistent chemicals.)

The health and environmental effects of PBDEs are still largely unresearched, but studies so far have demonstrated that PBDE can damage thyroid gland function and may also have toxic effects on reproduction. Exposure in utero has been linked to deficits in sensory and motor skills, learning, memory and hearing. PBDE-treated materials also generate highly carcinogenic dioxins when they burn, creating an additional hazard for firefighters.

Marine species are also affected
At the top of the marine food chain, orca whales have alarming amounts of PBDEs in their blubber and the levels are higher still for those whales resident in waters adjacent to industrialized areas of the West Coast. New research has also shown high levels of PBDEs in polar bears, posing another threat to their survival.

European Union, U.S. states enact bans
Action in some areas of the world is showing promising results. In Sweden, where PBDEs have not been used for many years, the levels in breast milk are now falling.

In 2004, the European Union passed legislation to ban the manufacture and use of PBDEs. Several states in the U.S., including California, Maine, Washington and Hawaii, have taken similar action, pushing manufacturers to use the alternatives that are readily available where there is a need for fire retardancy.

According to Ake Bergman, a leading PBDE researcher from Stockholm University, "We already know more about PBDEs than we knew about PCBs when we banned them in the 1970s. It's really time to act."



PBDEs in Human Breast Milk,

Reducing Your Exposure to PBDEs,

Read Doctor, Public and Scientific Comments,

Healthy Child Chemical Encyclopedia: PBDEs

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