Flame retardants used in fabrics, foams and various other plastics have helped to stop fires and save lives. However, many of the brominated ones (including PBDEs) are toxic. They can permanently damage brain and reproductive systems and cause learning disabilities in children. Scientists have learned that PBDEs steadily migrate from the products to which they were added and build up in the fat tissue of people and animals.(1) This has prompted bans and phase-outs in Europe and several states.(2) Fortunately, there are effective flame retardants already in widespread use that are far safer, and do not build up in people and animals and persist in the environment. In 2004, Maine's Legislature banned two of these dangerous PBDE flame retardants. In 2007, the Legislature took the next important step in voting to phase out another one of these poisonous compounds – known as “Deca” – in electronics, and prohibit its use in new mattresses and home furniture.
Deca Causes Learning Disabilities
Young Children Face the Most Threat
- Deca delays brain development and causes adult learning and behavior problems in lab animals exposed early in life.(4) In mice, Deca produced irreversible changes in brain function that worsened with age in adult mice. This is the same health effect seen for other PBDEs already banned in Maine.
- Deca degrades into other PBDEs that are even more toxic and easily absorbed by humans and wildlife.(5)
- The levels of PBDEs in people’s bodies are doubling every 2 to 5 years, and are 40 times higher in North America than on other continents.
- Maine scientists say their findings: “indicate[s] that Deca can degrade into other congeners suggests that it is a potential human health risk.”(6)
We Can Have Fire Protection Without Poisons
- The latest research shows toddlers have higher levels of Deca in their blood than older children, who have higher levels than adults.(7)
- Children pick up Deca mostly from eating and breathing contaminated house dust.(8)
This is a fact sheet of The Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine, of which MOFGA is an active member. For more information about Deca and its alternatives, contact Mike Belliveau, Environmental Health Strategy Center, 207-827-6331, firstname.lastname@example.org; or Matt Prindiville, Natural Resources Council of Maine, 207-622-3101 ext. 244, email@example.com.
- Virtually the entire computer industry and some television makers already use safer alternatives that meet the highest fire safety standards without the use of Deca in the plastic casings.(9)
- Mattresses do not require Deca to meet the tough new federal fire safety standards that go into effect in July 2007 for home uses. Many safer options are available.(10)
1 - RISING LEVELS: Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Brominated Flame Retardants: Report to the Joint Standing Committee on Natural Resources, 122nd Legislature, February 2005; w/ Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, February 2006.
2 - PBDE BANS: Penta and Octa have been banned in Europe and eight states including Maine.
3 - DECA PHASE-OUT: The use of Deca in electronics has been banned in Europe. Sweden has banned Deca in textiles. Maine legislation passed in 2004 sets a goal of phasing out Deca by January 1, 2008 if a safer, nationally available alternative is available. (Chapter 629, LD 1790).
4 - DECA TOXICITY: Cressey MA, Reeve EA, Rice DC, and Markowski VP, Behavioral Impairments Produced by Developmental Exposure to the Flame Retardant decaBDE, presented at the annual meeting of the Behavioral Toxicology Society, September 16-17, 2006.
5 - TOXIC BYPRODUCTS: Stapleton H, Brominated Flame Retardants: Assessing DecaBDE Debromination in the Environment, prepared for the EPHA-EN, May 2006. Heather Stapleton, PhD is an Environmental Chemist at Duke University.
6 - MAINE STUDY: Quote is from source cited in note 5, a new study by the Center for Environmental Health and Toxicology at the University of Southern Maine.
7 - KIDS AT RISK: Fischer D, Hooper K, Athanasiadou M, Athanassiadis I, and Bergman A, Children Show Highest Levels of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers in a California Family of Four: A Case Study, Environmental Health Perspectives, 114: 1581-1584 (2006). “This case study suggests that children are at higher risk for PBDE exposures and, accordingly, face higher risks of PBDE-related health effects than adults.”
8 - INDOOR EXPOSURE: Schecter A, Papke O, Harris RT, Tung KC, Musumba A, Olson J, and Birnbaum L, Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether (PBDE) Levels in an Expanded Market Basket Survey of U.S. Food and Estimated PBDE Dietary Intake by Age and Sex, Environmental Health Perspectives, 114:1515–1520 (2006). “Conclusion: Dietary exposure alone does not appear to account for the very high body burdens measured. The indoor environment (dust, air) may play an important role in PBDE body burdens in addition to food.”
9 - FIRE SAFETY – TELEVISIONS: Pure Strategies Inc., Decabromodiphenylether: An Investigation of Non-Halogen Substitutes in Electronic Enclosure and Textile Applications, prepared for Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, University of Massachusetts Lowell, April 2005. “… nearly all (electronic) manufacturers have the technology and know-how to meet the demand for decaBDE-free products that meet strict fire safety standards.”
10 - FIRE SAFETY – TEXTILES: Geller, Mattresses and Deca-BDE, Washington Department of Ecology, September 12, 2006. “… Deca-BDE is not currently being used in mattresses, and is not being considered to meet the CPSC (fire safety) standard.” See also Note 10, page 5.