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Offered here (below) as another example of the broader forces that will
ultimately determine recycling's economic viability over the long term.
Because products that use BPDE's for fire retardants are routinely discarded
in municipal landfills, which, with current designs, only at best delay
rather than prevent pollution. We may call them sanitary landfills, but
they are actually not entirely dissimilar from hazardous waste landfills.
And ultimately, these toxic substances will find themselves in the water we
drink and the air we breath. Obviously, this cannot go on forever. And when
it reaches public consciousness, the costs of landfilling -- against which
recycling competes --will increase dramatically, and recycling's economics
For that reason, recyclers will be well put to become involved in insuring
that landfill regulations are drastically reformed to address the enormous
environmental problems that they create.
> Scripps Howard News Service
> February 18, 2004
> An emerging health crisis involving flame retardants
> By JOAN LOWY
> February 17, 2004
> Scientists are warning that the accumulation of toxic flame retardants
> in people is verging on a public health crisis.
> The greatest risk is that the chemicals will interfere with
> fetal brain
> development, causing learning, memory and behavioral problems in the
> children of women who have accumulated high amounts of the chemicals.
> The retardants, known as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), have
> been measured in the breast milk of hundreds of European and American
> women. The average level in American women is 75 times higher than the
> average level in European women, possibly reflecting stricter
> fire-safety standards and greater commercial use of the
> chemicals in the
> United States.
> Some scientists said they fear that PBDEs, when coupled with other
> established contaminants known to interfere with brain development in
> the fetus like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and dioxin, may
> jeopardize the safety of breastfeeding and important sources of
> nutrition like fish.
> "This appears to be a public health crisis, possibly an
> emergency," said
> Arnold Schecter, a professor of public health at the University of
> Texas-Houston Health Sciences Center who has been researching human
> exposure to flame retardants.
> "We know in America that a nursing baby is consuming dioxins, PCBs,
> furans, brominated flame retardants and other chemicals,"
> Schecter said.
> "We cannot keep adding toxic chemicals in increased amounts without
> feeling great concern over the continued safety of nursing."
> Other public health experts said the benefits of breastfeeding - which
> can prevent disease through immunities passed from mother to child and
> enhance brain development - strongly outweigh the risks from flame
> Nevertheless, even supporters of continued breastfeeding
> expressed deep
> concern about the buildup of contaminants.
> "Anything we do that degrades the quality of the perfect food (human
> breast milk) is just a colossal biological mistake," said Richard
> Jackson, senior adviser to the director of the U.S. Centers
> for Disease
> Control and Prevention.
> "At some point there is a need to make a policy decision that things
> that get into breast milk should not be allowed in our environment,
> things that one reasonably suspects have (hormone-disrupting) or
> neurotoxicologic effects should not be in our environment if they can
> get into our bodies and into our kids."
> About 5 percent of Americans - around 15 million people - have PBDE
> levels in their bodies greater than 300 parts per billion, said Tom
> McDonald, a toxicologist with the California Office of Environmental
> Health Hazard Assessment.
> "I think it is very important to understand that the levels
> of PBDEs in
> some people have now reached, or are very near, the levels that have
> been associated with health effects in animal studies," McDonald said.
> "That means the current margin of safety is low."
> Environmentalists say the federal government has been slow to
> respond to
> the threat presented by PBDEs.
> Brominated flame retardants came into widespread use in the 1970s in
> response to stricter fire-safety regulations. Among other
> products, they
> are widely used in foam cushions, carpets and the hard plastic casings
> of computers and televisions. But they didn't catch the attention of
> public health officials in a big way until 1998, when researchers
> reported finding the chemicals in the breast milk of Swedish women.
> Flame-retardant levels in breast milk are increasing dramatically even
> as levels of other contaminants that were banned in the 1970s
> have come
> Over the last five years, the retardants have been measured around the
> world in household dust, sewage sludge, fish, marine mammals,
> a variety
> of foods and the eggshells of birds. Levels of the chemicals are
> increasing exponentially virtually everywhere, including
> doubling every
> three to five years in people and as rapidly as every year
> and a half in
> some fish.
> Schecter said he has been able to pick up PBDEs on computer
> casings just
> by wiping a cloth treated with oil similar to what would be on a human
> PBDEs, like their chemical cousins PCBs, are extremely
> persistent in the
> environment, which means that contamination released today
> will probably
> be around for decades.
> The European Union has phased out manufacture and use of
> penta and octa,
> the two PBDE commercial mixtures for which there is the strongest
> evidence of adverse health effects. California enacted a law last year
> to phase out penta and octa by 2008.
> In November, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a voluntary
> agreement with Great Lakes Chemical of West Lafayette, Ind., the only
> U.S. manufacturer of penta and octa, to phase out production of the
> flame retardants by the end of this year.
> However, there has been no move by the EPA to restrict the use of a
> third chemical mixture, deca, despite a growing number of studies that
> show deca may also be toxic and that it breaks down in the environment
> into chemical components of penta that have been shown to have toxic
> A study last year by the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences found
> that fish downstream from a waste-treatment plant that was releasing
> deca were heavily contaminated with penta even though very
> little penta
> was being released by the plant.
> Researchers concluded that deca is breaking down into penta, probably
> through exposure to sunlight.
> "If you have a law that bans penta, you have to include deca
> because the
> research shows that in the environment deca very quickly breaks down
> into penta," said Bill Walker, vice president of the Environmental
> Working Group, an advocacy organization that researches
> chemical health
> EPA scientist Linda Birnbaum, a leading PBDE researcher,
> cautioned that
> switching from deca to another flame retardant could present further
> "I don't think we necessarily want to go to an alternative until we're
> pretty sure that that isn't going be as bad or worse than what we
> already have," Birnbaum said.
> Flame-retardant manufacturers, who have a much greater financial stake
> in deca than in octa and penta, have been fighting any suggestion that
> the retardant should be phased out.
> Preliminary risk assessments by the European Union indicate deca does
> not pose a risk to the public, according to the Bromine Science and
> Environmental Forum, the trade association for the brominated
> flame-retardant industry.
> "All the companies in our group work closely with the EPA and
> looking at all the chemicals. There has been no indication
> that deca has
> any negative health effects," said Peter O'Toole, a spokesman for the
> While there have been several studies that have detected deca in the
> environment, "the extrapolation that the penta people are
> finding in the
> environment comes from debromination of deca has never been
> demonstrated," O'Toole said. "People have been saying there's
> evidence for a long time, but it's far from definitive."
> More than 74,000 tons of deca, octa and penta were used worldwide in
> 2001, according to the forum. Deca accounted for the bulk of the
> production - 62,000 tons - with nearly half used in North America.
> The EPA's Toxic Release Inventory shows that 1.4 million
> pounds of deca
> were released into the environment by industry in 2001, the
> latest year
> for which figures are available.
> In addition to California, some states are beginning to act on their
> own. Washington Gov. Gary Locke signed an executive order last month
> directing state environmental and health officials to develop
> a plan for
> reducing PBDEs in the environment.
> Legislatures in Maine and Hawaii are considering bills to ban
> penta and
> octa. In Maryland, a similar bill that also included deca was
> killed in
> committee last week.
> Robert Duff, acting director of the Washington state Office of
> Environmental Health Assessments, recently urged state legislators not
> to "wait for roomfuls of toxicity data before taking action."
> "We're already struggling to keep mercury and PCBs down" in fish, Duff
> said. "Now we have another one - PBDEs. The real concern here is that
> they are all implicated in neurodevelopmental effects."
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