Last week we spoke about the weaknesses in the current law protecting Americans from toxic chemicals. Today we submitted comments to EPA urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to move forward with health protections that would regulate polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) which are a group of toxic flame retardants. The health-protective actions we are urging EPA to take would impose some of the most stringent restrictions permitted under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the flawed and obsolete statute that ties EPA’s hands in trying to ensure the safety of the chemicals that are produced and used in this country. The comments were prepared with Environmental Defense Fund on behalf of 33 other groups
The PBDE chemicals that we addressed in our comments are toxic chemicals that are supposed to prevent the spread of fire. But there is strong evidence that at the levels they are used, they are ineffective. Instead, these chemicals end up in our bodies at high levels as we are exposed to them continually, and they bioaccumulate, meaning that once they are in our bodies, they stay for a very long time. As a result of the presence of PBDEs in everyday household items such as furniture and electronics, Americans have much higher levels of PBDEs than people anywhere else in the world. Scientific studies show that PBDEs disrupt normal brain development, leading to learning disabilities and behavioral impairments. Newborns are especially vulnerable.
Here is what Environmental Defense Fund health scientist Dr. Jennifer McPartland says about PBDE’s:
PBDEs fall into the ‘worst of the worst’ camp of chemicals. Not only are they toxic, they persist in the environment, move up the food chain, and accumulate in our bodies, even including newborns who are especially vulnerable to their toxic effects.
The first rule would require companies intending to produce, process or import PBDEs to notify the EPA before doing so. This would give the EPA the opportunity to prohibit the new use of PBDEs. The second rule would require companies who produce, process or import PBDEs after 2013 to conduct extensive tests needed to allow the EPA to determine the risks by these products.
Remember how we talked last week about how under our current law, the general rule is that chemicals have to be proven unsafe after they reach the market? Well under the new rule for PBDEs that the EPA is proposing, this illogical system would not apply. Rather, if this rule goes into effect, manufacturers, processors and importers of PBDEs would have to prove to the EPA that their product is safe before it could be sold in this country. his would be a step in the right direction.
But much more needs to be done. Following on Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s momentous passage of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2012 last week, we need more congressmen on board for full toxics reform.