The Washington State Legislature has passed the nation’s first ban on all forms of the toxic flame retardants known as PBDEs. The Senate passed ESHB1024, sponsored by Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina), by a 41 to 8 margin at noon today. Senator Debbie Regala (D-Tacoma) sponsored the companion bill in the Senate.

“Washington state is leading the way for improving the health and safety of our children,” said Hunter, who has sponsored the legislation for three years. “We’ve come up with a common-sense strategy for preserving fire safety while getting rid of chemicals like PBDEs that build up in our environment, in our bodies, and even in mothers’ breast milk.”

Major manufacturers, including HP, Dell, Sony, Panasonic, and Phillips, have already stopped using PBDEs in their products. Sen. Regala applauded the bill’s final passage, saying “Companies have proven that we don’t need toxic chemicals like PBDEs to make effective products. It’s up to us at the state level to move the rest of the industry toward safer practices.”

The Washington State Departments of Ecology and Health requested the legislation, which is supported by Governor Gregoire, three state fire associations, the Washington State Nurses Association, the Washington Medical Association, and many others. The bill is the first one of the four Priorities for a Healthy Washington to head to the Governor’s desk. While other states have passed bans on the penta and octa forms of PBDEs, which have been phased out of manufacture, Washington is the first to act on the deca form. Deca has by far the highest production volume of the PBDE forms.

“Fire fighters are concerned about preventing fires and reducing exposure to toxic chemicals, because we’re on the front lines in both cases,” said Keven Rojecki of the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters. “Fire fighters are already exposed to so many deadly carcinogens, it is critical that safer alternatives be used to ensure products are fire safe. This bill is a victory for protecting the health of firefighters and the public from harmful toxic chemicals.”

The legislation does the following:

  • Bans the use of the penta and octa forms of PBDEs, with limited exceptions, by 2008
  • Bans the use of the deca form in mattresses by 2008
  • Bans the use of the deca form in televisions, computers, and residential upholstered furniture by 2011, as long as a safer, reasonable, and effective alternative has been identified by the state departments of Ecology and Health and approved by fire safety officials

“This legislation is about doing the right thing to protect families and our environment from the harmful effects of PBDEs,” said Rep. Skip Priest, R-Federal Way. “We’re doing the responsible thing-banning the chemical and working with alternative fire retardants so we don’t trade one danger for another.” Priest added that he was very concerned about the possible link between PBDEs and irregular brain development in fetuses. This measure, he says, is the only sure way to break that connection.

As the measure gained momentum, the bromine industry, the most significant opponent to the legislation, employed tactics that included testifying as fire safety organizations and widely distributing a mailer with misleading information.

“With the passage of this legislation, Washington is a safer place to raise children,” said Laurie Valeriano, Policy Director for the Washington Toxics Coalition. “Scientific facts and disease prevention won out today over chemical industry scare tactics and hype.”

Three hundred health care professionals signed a letter supporting the ban on PBDEs, citing harmful health impacts from PBDEs including learning and behavioral disorders, memory impairments, disruption of thyroid function, reproductive effects, and cancer. The letter’s authors note that substantial evidence shows the buildup of PBDEs in people, orca whales, and the environment, and new studies find that the deca form breaks down into other forms of PBDEs that have already been phased out.

“This action by the Washington State legislature marks a crucial step forward for the health, development and learning of Washington’s children,” said Barry Lawson, MD, Immediate Past President of the Washington Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics. “By phasing out PBDEs, we can safeguard our children from exposures to these persistent toxic chemicals and act on our responsibility to provide them with a healthier future.”

“This is truly a case where prevention is essential,” said Judy Huntington, MN, RN, Executive Director of the Washington State Nurses Association. “By passing this legislation, we are making vital progress in protecting our state’s children, families and workers from permanent yet preventable harm.”

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