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Maine Joins Washington, Bans PBDEs

Jun 18, 2007Maine Governor John Baldacci signed into law legislation to ban the use of a toxic flame retardant called deca-PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ether) in furniture and upholstery, computers and televisions. Maine’s legislation, LD1658, was sponsored by NCEL participant Rep. Hannah Pingree and was co-sponsored by NCEL participants Rep. Ted Koffman, Rep. Robert Duchesne, Rep. John Hinck, and Rep. Sharon Treat. LD1658 had bi-partisan support and passed the House unanimously. In the Senate, only five legislators voted against the bill. Earlier this year, Washington NCEL participants enacted the first regulations in the country on “deca.”

“Deca” is a toxic flame retardant used widely in computers, televisions, and other products, and it has been shown to cause neurological development problems in laboratory tests. Many health officials and scientists fear that it could also have harmful effects on humans. Tests have shown that the toxic flame retardant leaches out of the products it is used in, making its way into the environment. Because it is used so widely, deca has been found just about everywhere in the world, including house dust, in mother’s breast milk, in wildlife, the film on automobile windows, our food supply, and in remote places such as the Arctic. Advocates for regulation point to availability of safer alternatives that can be substituted for deca and provide similar fire protection.

According to NCEL participants, firefighters played an important role in enacting the legislation in both Maine and Washington. Firefighter organizations supported the legislation due to deca’s toxicity and potential for firefighters to become exposed when the chemical is released during a fire. Another important reason the firefighters supported the bill was due to the availability of safer alternatives that provide the same level of fire safety protection. Other states working to limit deca’s use in 2007 include California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, and New York. The European Union has banned the use of deca since 2006.

Also this year, Minnesota became the eleventh state to ban two other forms of PBDE, called penta- and octaBDE. The Minnesota law also requires a study of deca and safer alternatives and encourages the state to procure products that do not contain PBDEs. Penta- and octa- have been banned in 10 other states including California, Illinois, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island, with most of the legislation sponsored by NCEL participants. These state efforts led the company that manufactures penta- and octa- to agree to stop their production, something advocates hope will be the same fate for deca.

Here is an overview of Maine’s legislation provided by the Environmental Health Strategy Center, an advocate group that played a key role in the bill’s passage:

-Bans new uses of Deca in mattresses and upholstered furniture effective January 1, 2008;

-Phases out existing uses of Deca in televisions and computer housings by January 1, 2010;

-Exempts transportation, industrial and manufacturing, and wire and cable uses of Deca;

-Authorizes the state to adopt rules to ban other harmful alternative flame retardants for these same products, if there are safer alternatives that meet fire safety standards;

-Requires product manufacturers to notify sellers if these products contain Deca, effective January 1, 2008, and for the state to assist retailers;

-Authorizes participation in an interstate clearinghouse on PBDEs and BFRs;

-Adds state authority to require compliance certification;

-Requires continued reporting to the Legislature every two years on hazard and risk assessments and alternatives to the use of all brominated flame retardants.

NCEL participants in California, Illinois, and New York are still working to enact deca bills this year.

An unofficial copy of Maine’s LD1658 is attached along with a press release from the Governor and the Environmental Health Strategy Center.

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