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Great Lakes Article:

Flame retardants may be phased out
By Elizabeth Weise

The Environmental Protection Agency is negotiating with a U.S. chemical manufacturer to phase out two toxic chemicals used as flame retardants.
The chemicals have been found in potentially harmful levels in human breast milk, and recent widely reported studies found that U.S. mothers had levels 10 to 20 times higher than mothers in Europe.

The flame retardants are two versions of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs: The Penta version is used to make foam and furniture-backing flame retardant; the Octa version is used in the hard plastic casing of electronics such as computers and televisions.

In mice and rats, studies have shown that PBDEs may cause cognitive and behavioral changes during development and may lead to higher cancer rates.

PBDEs appear to be present in humans worldwide. Breast milk is tested because PBDEs readily accumulate in fat, and breast milk is the least invasive way to test.

The only U.S. manufacturer of the chemicals is Great Lakes Chemical Co. of West Lafayette, Ind. The firm is discussing "a possible voluntary phase-out" of both types with the EPA while the agency does a full evaluation, company spokesman Trevor Francis says.

Europe will begin banning both forms next year, and California will ban its use in 2008.

"That would be good news indeed if an agreement could be reached voluntarily," says Arnold Schecter, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Texas. His research, published in August, found very high levels in the breast milk of women in Texas.

"You don't want people to die in fires, but you also don't want toxic chemicals in their bodies."

When Swedish companies voluntarily phased out PBDEs in the late 1990s, levels in Swedish women began to drop quickly.

The Environmental Working Group, whose study last month that found some of the highest levels ever reported, supports a voluntary ban. "It's to Great Lakes' credit that they acknowledge that they're going to have to comply with this deadline in Europe beginning next year," says EWG's Bill Walker. "It's only fair that they ... honor that in the States as well."

Environmentalists are now turning their attention to the most commonly used PBDE, the Deca type, which also is used in plastics exposed to heat, such as TV casings, PC monitors and blow dryers.

"The spin on Deca is that it is safe, but the study we did shows that Deca is showing up in humans and appears to have some of the same health effects," Walker says.

Europe begins banning Deca by 2006. China and South Korea will phase it out of electronics by 2006.

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