Anti-Metaefficient: PBDE: A Poison That Is Now Everywhere

pbde.gifPBDE (polybrominated diphenyl) is a toxic flame retardant used in many products, including computer cases, carpet pads and foam cushions in chairs and couches.

This recent article in the The Oregonian sums up the problems for humans:

Research has shown that the levels of PBDEs in American women are doubling every two to five years. Even low-level exposure, particularly for developing infants, poses some risks to brain development, hormone functioning, memory, learning and behavior.

It’s nearly impossible to create a PBDE-free environment if the chemicals remain in broad use. However, European nations that have banned forms of PBDEs have seen the chemicals decline in the environment and in women’s breast milk. California, Hawaii, New York, Michigan and Maine all have restricted these chemicals.

They article goes on to point out that PBDEs can be replaced fairly easily:

It’s also clear that the use of the chemicals is not essential to fire safety, or to manufacturers of electronics and furniture. Many electronics companies — including Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Epson — have stopped using PBDEs in the face of the European Union restrictions. With California restricting the chemicals, Washington moving to do so and companies adjusting to bans elsewhere…

The Environmental Working Group says:

PBDEs are now found in house dust, sewage sludge and the water and sediments of rivers, estuaries and oceans. They’ve been found in the tissues of whales, seals, birds and bird eggs, moose, reindeer, mussels, eels, and dozens of species of freshwater and marine fish. Like scores of other industrial chemicals, they have also been found in human breast milk, fat and blood.

…[I]n the last few years, it has become clear that PBDEs and other brominated flame retardants have joined PCBs, DDT and dioxin on the list of persistent, bioaccumulative chemicals contaminating people, animals and the environment everywhere on Earth.

statusquo1b.gifWhy do we even consider using chemicals like this in the first place?

Worldwide, only eight companies manufacture PBDEs. Two of the largest are in the U.S. — they are Great Lakes Chemical Corporation and Albemarle Corporation.

In 2002, Great Lakes reported total sales for all products of $1.4 billion, up 4 percent from the previous year. Albermarle reported sales of $980 million, up 7 percent.

More details: here is a FAQ on PDBEs by the Washington State Department of Ecology.

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