Canadian Consulting Engineer

Flame retardants may be listed as toxic

A draft scientific assessment of certain flame retardants has found that they are harmful to the environment and ma...

May 26, 2004   Canadian Consulting Engineer

A draft scientific assessment of certain flame retardants has found that they are harmful to the environment and may linger in the ecosystem for years.
David Anderson, Canada’s Minister of the Environment, and Pierre Pettigrew, Minister of Health published the results of an assessment of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) on May 11. PBDEs are used to treat plastics and foams, and they are used in a variety of products including computer housings, electrical and electronic components.
The draft report says that PBDEs are bioaccumulative and can remain in the environment for a number of years. Though current levels are not harming human health, said Minister Pettigrew, there has been a substantial increase since the early 1990s. Also current levels in some areas may pose a risk to the development of wildlife and invertebrates. Health effects have been observed in laboratory animals.
The substances are not manufactured in Canada but are used to make commercial items and imported in finished articles. In 2000 Canada imported 1,400 tonnes of BPDEs in commercial products.
In Canada, the chemicals are found in different combinations, generally referred to as commercial penta-, octa- and deca-brominated diphenyl ethers.
According to Environment Canada some substances — Penta-BDE — have been out of use for about a year. The commercial mixture Octa-BDE has seen limited use here and steps are being taken to find alternatives.
The release of PBDEs can occur at all stages: during manufacturing, processing, through the service life of articles containing the substance and when those items are discarded.
Following a 60-day public comment period and analysis the government will make a final decision as to whether BPDEs are toxic as defined in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999.
The draft screening assessmet report is available at www.ec.gc.ca/CEPARegistry.


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