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E-M:/ Health Advocates Applaud New State Ban on Flame Retardants - Press Release

Title: Health Advocates Applaud New State Ban on Flame Retard
Health Advocates Applaud New State Ban on Flame Retardants

New law outlaws two chemicals, but third still subject of controversy

January 4, 2005   

Tracey Easthope (734) 663-2400 ext. 109
James Clift (517) 487-9539

LANSING - State public health advocates and environmental groups today cheered Governor Granholm's signature of landmark bills banning two dangerous flame retardants, and urged legislators to move quickly on a third related chemical.

Health concerns about the flame retardants emerged in 1999 when Swedish scientists reported that levels of these chemicals in human breast milk had increased 60-fold between 1972 and 1997. Subsequent studies found flame retardant levels in American women to be up to ten times higher than in Sweden and doubling every five years.  Children are also exposed to the chemicals from meat and dairy foods, from house dust, and possibly from gases that vaporize from household products using the flame retardants. These chemicals will persist in their bodies through adulthood.

"This is an important first step to protect Michigan residents from chemicals found in mother's milk and likely to be dangerous to people," said Tracey Easthope, Environmental Health Director of the Ecology Center.  "These chemicals can damage the thyroid and impair the central nervous system, and viable alternatives exist for most uses."

Public Acts 526 and 562 ban two kinds of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE's) - penta-BDE and octa-BDE, but not a related "deca" form of the chemical. PBDEs have been used since the 1970s as flame retardants in plastic and foam consumer products, primarily electronics, furnishing, and insulation.  Structurally, PBDEs are very similar to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), which were also once used as flame retardants and insulators.  Both PCBs and PBBs are banned or severely restricted in most countries due to health and environmental effects.
"Now that these bills are law, the Legislature should move swiftly to complete investigation of the "deca" form and phase it out if studies confirm it also can cause neurological damage, or breaks down in the environment into the other banned forms," said James Clift, Policy Director of the Michigan Environmental Council.  "In order to protect public health, we need to switch quickly to alternative chemicals that do not pose the same health risks."

The following products usually contain the flame retardant: computers, television sets, mobile phones, electronics and electrical items, automotive equipment, construction materials, polyurethane foam mattresses, cushions, carpets, upholstered furniture, and draperies, among others. 

Sections of the new laws were dedicated to the memory of Mary Beth Doyle, a leading advocate of the flames retardant ban, who died in a vehicle accident on November 13.  Doyle worked as the Ecology Center' Campaign Director, and was a long-time colleague of Tracey Easthope's.  "Mary Beth would be pleased to know that the Governor started off the New Year by signing these bills into law" said Easthope.  "She would also be pleased to see the Legislature next take up proposals to phase out 'deca', and to further address toxic chemicals that threaten the health of Michigan residents."