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E-M:/ New Study Finds Toxic Dust on Computers in Michigan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                   For More Information:             

June 3rd, 2004                                                                                        Mary Beth Doyle, MPH, Ecology Center,                                                                                                                         734-663-2400 ext 108

                                                                                                            Kate Madigan, PIRGIM, 517-664-2600

Dave Dempsey, MEC, 517-487-9538                                                                   

Toxic Dust Found on Computers in Michigan

Groups Call for Phase Out of Toxic Fire Retardants


Lansing, Michigan—In the first nationwide study of brominated fire retardants in dust samples from computers, toxic chemicals were found in all of the samples tested, including from a legislative office in Lansing and a computer lab at the University of Michigan. The highest levels found were a form of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) called deca-BDE— one of the most widely used fire retardant chemicals in the electronics industry. These chemicals have been shown to be reproductive and neurological hazards in animal lab tests, and increasingly are being found in human tissue and breast milk samples here in the US and abroad. The study was conducted by the Computer Take-Back Campaign and Clean Production Action, with assistance from the Ecology Center and the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan (PIRGIM).


“These results indicate we’re being exposed to toxic dusts from computers on the job.” said Michigan Senator Liz Brater, whose office was tested in the study. “Michigan needs to take steps to protect its residents from these toxic chemicals. Chemicals that persist in the environment and in our bodies should not be allowed in commerce.”


Since the 1970s, the electronics industry has been one of the largest consumers of PBDEs, relying on the brominated class of chemicals to meet fire safety standards, because bromine is relatively inexpensive.  Brominated fire retardants (BFRs), especially PBDEs, are persistent in the environment and contaminate the food chain, animals, and people.  North American women have the highest levels globally of these chemicals in their breast milk and these levels are doubling in the US population every two to five years.  A recent study found elevated levels of PBDEs in the breast milk of an Ann Arbor woman.


“The bromine chemical manufacturers have provided false reassurances that these chemicals are safe.  Because these chemicals build up in the body, even low levels of deca-BDE and other brominated chemicals found in the dust samples are cause for concern” said Mary Beth Doyle of the Ecology Center


There has been considerable effort both in the United States and Europe over the last two years to assess the potential public health and environmental impacts of the PBDEs. Available scientific data prompted the European Union to take action to phase-out all PBDEs in consumer electronics sold in Europe by 2006.  However, deca-BDE, the most used PBDE in commerce, has been fiercely defended by the bromine industry and is still in use in the United States. 


The United States lags behind Europe in working to reduce human exposure to these chemicals, despite action to ban PBDEs in a handful of states. Maine recently became the first state to ban the sale of products containing deca-BDE. California banned the production and use of penta- and octa-BDE in 2003. The state of Washington also has an Executive Order to develop a phase-out plan for all PBDEs.


Steps also are being taken to eliminate PBDEs in Michigan. Representative Chris Kolb (D-Ann Arbor) has introduced legislation to immediately require annual reporting of all uses of PBDEs and bans PBDE use by 2007.  In light of recent findings however, Rep. Kolb is working on changes to the legislation to speed up the ban on penta and octa and to include a ban on deca as well. 


"This study helps to illustrate the urgent need for my legislation to be enacted without delay”, said State

Representative Chris Kolb.


Additionally, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is currently drafting a white paper to look at the risks posed by toxic flame retardants and provide recommendations for Michigan, and the Department of Management and Budget has adopted a purchasing policy that prefers products that do not contain brominated flame retardants.


“With PBDEs rapidly accumulating in our bodies, possibly through exposure to everyday dust in our homes and workplaces, our decision makers need to mandate a shift to less-toxic alternatives throughout the entire electronics industry by banning these harmful chemicals” stated Kate Madigan of PIRGIM.


Madigan added that to drive federal action, Governor Jennifer Granholm should take executive steps to eliminate the release of brominated fire retardants in Michigan, and the Legislature should enact a phase-out on the compounds proposed in legislation sponsored by State Rep. Chris Kolb.


The report released today evaluates the latest advancements in company research and adoption of safer alternatives to brominated fire retardants.  Some companies such as Apple, Toshiba, Dell, NEC and Hewlett Packard are redesigning their electronic products to avoid the use of toxic fire retardants and still meet top level fire safety standards.  Much of this activity comes in response to the phase out legislation in Europe, which impacts US manufacturers who sell to European customers. 


“We have enough evidence to act now,” concluded Doyle. “Fire retardants are supposed to protect us from danger, not put us at further and unnecessary risk.”


The full report is available at www.computertakeback.com.




***please note new contact information


Kate Madigan

PIRGIM Advocate

303 Abbott Street, Suite 205

East Lansing, MI 48823

Tel: 517-664-2600