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PBDE – a pollutant that never goes away

PBDE’s are a group of chemicals that have been widely used in US products as flame retardants – additives that help keep products from catching fire.  These flame retardants can be highly effective in preventing property damage and even saving lives, but they can also come with a price – toxic pollution.

Fortunately, there are many alternatives to PBDE’s for consumer products like electronics, mattresses and home furnishings.  Many manufacturers like Sony and HP have already removed all PBDE’s from their product lines, and some have switched to using materials that are naturally flame-resistant, instead of relying on chemical additives.

The most toxic forms of PBDE, octa and penta, are widely banned in several countries and US states, and are mostly gone from the marketplace.  However, the remaining form of PBDE in widespread use is deca, used in many common consumer products.  North Carolina is one of eight states currently considering a ban on decaBDE in consumer products.  Maine and Washington already have such laws.

Why ban decaPBDE?

PBDE’s are persistent.  Once PBDE’s get into the environment, they take an extremely long time to degrade and disappear.  That means that each day that we continue using PBDE’s, the levels increase in the environment.  They are found everywhere – from coastal shellfish beds in North Carolina to the Arctic Circle, as well as in humans and our breastmilk.

DecaBDE breaks down into more toxic forms. Both in the environment and through metabolic processes in animals, decaBDE breaks down into more toxic chemicals, including dioxins and octa- and penta- BDE.

Children suffer the greatest exposure to decaBDE.  Toddlers have more decaBDE in their blood than older children, who in turn have more than adults. Studies suggest young children’s exposure to PBDEs can be hundreds of times greater than that of adults, primarily from breast milk and house dust.

We don’t need to wait. 
Since there are so many ways to create fire-safe products without this harmful, persistent chemical, we can get it out of consumer products – and out of our breast milk – now.  Every day that we wait for more research to be done, higher levels of PBDE build up in our environment and our children’s bodies.  Around the US and in North Carolina, firefighters, pediatricians, and many others support eliminating this hazardous pollutant from the marketplace. 

Legislation currently being considered in North Carolina would ban PBDE’s from consumer products including electronics, mattresses and home furnishings.  It would also create incentives for manufacturers to develop new products that meet all fire safety standards without the use of toxic chemicals. 

Learn more

Read the bills:  H 823 and S 993, Limit Toxic Flame Retardants Containing PBDE’s

>>How to contact your legislators    


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Recent science on PDBEs:

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