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Decision on Flame Retardants is a New Low in Public Policy Making on Chemical Safety

Written By Krishna on Friday, May 11, 2012 | 7:41 PM

Secretive Committee Falls for Slick Chemical Industry Campaign

Toronto – Public policy-making on chemical safety reached a new low in Canada with a decision on April 26th by “Canadian Technical Committee 108.” Buried within the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and unaccountable to public input, this committee cast its vote in favour of a “candle flame ignition” standard for televisions.

As noted in our April 25th, 2012 media release, this was the third attempt since 2008 by the bromine industry to secure markets for its toxic chemicals by trying to influence standards for whether a candle can set your television on fire. It is a toxic solution to a problem that doesn’t exist since there is no valid fire safety reason for the candle flame ignition requirements.

Nevertheless, this “yes” vote now goes to the committee’s international counterpart, the International Electrochemical Committee (IEC). “On behalf of all Canadians, this obscure committee bought, hook, line and sinker, the strategy orchestrated by large chemical companies that stand to directly benefit from these needless standards. If supported at the international level, the result will strongly favour the expanded use of highly toxic substances,” noted Kathleen Cooper, Senior Researcher with the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA).

The CSA Committee provides both misinformed and disingenuous reasons for rejecting the concerns raised by CELA, concerned scientists, and other public interest organizations,” Ms. Cooper added. “While the Canadian Committee notes that manufacturers will need to consider national regulatory processes, it completely misses the point about lack of fire safety data to support the need for the standards, and erroneously notes that electronics recycling will be unaffected.”

In terms of Canadian regulation keeping pace with this issue, there is cause for serious concern. Canada is long overdue with a promised regulation to ban in electronics the brominated flame retardant deca-BDE, a substance associated with learning problems, adverse birth outcomes, endocrine disruption, and other serious health effects and that contaminates indoor house dust, is found in everyone’s blood - at the highest levels in fetuses and young children, and persists in biota worldwide. “We are in the midst of huge backward steps being taken on environmental protection in Ottawa. We should be banning these highly toxic brominated and halogenated substances in consumer products. Instead, the federal government is abdicating its responsibility to regulate decaBDE and allowing an obscure and misinformed CSA committee to determine an important matter of public health policy,” Cooper noted.

Moreover, if these standards are adopted at the international level, there are significant implications for domestic and international commitments. “Expanding the use of brominated flame retardants will be in direct opposition to decisions made by the Canadian government to propose prohibitions on several of these chemicals under federal law as well as within the global community’s decision to target them for global action under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants,” noted Fe de Leon, CELA Researcher.

For the CSA Committee to state that these standards are “technology neutral” is particularly galling given the industry lobby that is behind them. Nor does this view acknowledge that to meet this new standard, television manufacturers are likely to add more flame retardants for which minimal toxicity data are available. “CELA is concerned about multiple aspects of the high toxicity of the chemicals that such standards will likely promote. In addition to clear evidence of contamination of indoor dust and the outdoor environment, brominated or halogen-based flame retardants make fires more dangerous. When products containing these chemicals burn, the toxic gases created are the major cause of fire deaths, rather than flames, and also create very serious health risks to firefighters,” said Cooper.

“Also contrary to reasons noted by the committee in support of its vote for the standards, the products themselves are much harder to recycle, put toxic chemicals into the e-waste stream, and create health and safety risks for those in the recycling industry,” noted Professor Miriam Diamond, an expert who has published extensively on the issue of environmental contamination by brominated flame retardants.

“As noted before the Committee made its decision, CELA objects to the secrecy of such standards review processes. After hearing of the result, our concerns have been realized: this technical committee reviewing fire safety issues appears to have had neither the expertise nor the inclination to consider broader issues of public interest, including important issues of human health risk and environmental contamination,” Cooper noted.

For more information, see:

April 25th Media Release: Obscure Canadian National Committee to decide on needless toxics in our living rooms: http://www.cela.ca/newsevents/media-release/obscure-committee-to-decide-on-needless-toxics-our-living-rooms

CELA’s letter to the Canadian National IEC Committee: http://www.cela.ca/publications/canadian-technical-committee-108-candle-resistant-tvs, and The Case Against Candle-Resistant TVs: http://greensciencepolicy.org/sites/default/files/Current%20Case%20against%20Candle%20Resistant%20TVs%20IEC%20March%2028%202012.pdf

See also a four-part investigative series in the Chicago Tribune documenting the decades-long industry campaign on this issue. http://media.apps.chicagotribune.com/flames/index.html

For more information, please contact:

Kathleen Cooper, Senior Researcher 705-341-2488 (cell) kcooper@cela.ca
Fe de Leon, Researcher 416-960-2284, ext. 223 deleonf@cela.ca
Miriam Diamond, Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto 416 -978-1586 miriam.diamond@utoronto.ca
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