A flame retardant used in many household products will be banned in Washington state now that the departments of Ecology and Health have identified safer alternatives, and a fire safety committee as well as the State Fire Marshal have determined these alternatives will meet fire safety standards.

 In 2007 the Legislature passed a law phasing out the use of a class of chemical flame retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs. Three types of PBDEs were used in consumer products — Penta-BDE, Octa-BDE and Deca-BDE. The prohibition became effective for all products containing Penta-BDE and Octa-BDE, and for mattresses containing Deca-BDE in January, 2008. 

     At the time the law was passed, safer alternatives for Deca-BDE had not been identified for other products, specifically upholstered furniture and plastic used in televisions and computers. The Legislature postponed implementing a ban on Deca-BDE in computers, TVs and residential upholstered furniture until the departments of Health and Ecology determined that less toxic alternatives are available.

Furthermore, Washington’s fire-fighting professionals were required to determine that the proposed alternatives met fire safety standards.

     “I applaud the Governor’s and Legislature’s leadership in protecting Washington residents from exposure to this toxic chemical,”

said Ecology Director Jay Manning. “It means we’re taking action to address the buildup of Deca in people, homes and workplaces, while making sure that consumer products are available, fire-safe and less toxic.”

     “Washington’s flame retardant law represents a comprehensive and common sense approach to protecting public health and our environment without sacrificing fire safety,” said Sen. Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma.

“It’s based on science and thorough study.” 

     “This is an expected step in a careful process – a finding that there are safer alternatives to Deca and other brominated flame retardants,” said Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Bellevue. This is a great step towards increased environmental safety for children.”  

     Sen. Regala and Rep. Hunter were sponsors of the legislation to phase out the use of PBDE flame retardants in household products.

     As directed by the law, Health and Ecology reviewed risk assessments, scientific studies and other relevant findings on alternatives to Deca-BDE. The agencies presented their recommendations to the newly created Fire Safety Committee on November 7, 2008. The committee, made up of five fire safety experts, unanimously approved the alternatives presented.

     The State Fire Marshal, Mike Matlick, then determined that the alternative meets applicable fire safety standards. His determination was also a requirement of the law.

     On Jan. 20, 2009, Ecology submitted a report to the Legislature describing how Ecology and Health evaluated alternatives for technical feasibility, toxicity and fire safety. It also explains how the agencies were able to identify safer alternatives.

     This report triggers the state ban on the manufacture, sale and distribution of televisions, computers and residential upholstered furniture containing Deca-BDE by January 2011.

     Studies show that levels of PBDEs are rising in people and the environment, doubling every five years.  People in North America have the highest levels in the world.  Studies in laboratory animals – the standard testing method for toxicity – show that PBDEs can damage the developing brain, affecting behavior, learning and memory. These effects can be permanent and may worsen with age.

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