Environment Picture

Opinion: For the sake of our children, legislature should phase out dangerous fire retardant

Safer alternatives to DECA-BDE are available
The following commentary by State Representative Terry Brown (D-Pigeon) originally appeared in the Huron Daily Tribune on June 27, 2008.

Last year my son Bryan, now 13, and I participated in a seven-state project called “Is It In Us?” intended to find out whether toxic chemicals used in everyday products have found their way into the bodies of average people.

The answer, for us and the 33 participants in six other states, was a frightening and absolute “yes.” This project was coordinated in our state by the Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health. It lends support to what other projects have found: that poisons from everyday products have likely contaminated the bodies of every American.

The project tested me, Bryan and the rest of us for common industrial chemicals found in items that all Americans have in our homes, offices, vehicles and schools. These chemicals have been shown to cause health problems in animals and humans. Some of the toxins don’t even have to be tested before being used. Many of us believe the law protects of us from such dangers, but in reality, it doesn’t.

One of the most troubling toxins is a commercial fire retardant called deca-BDE, which is used in the plastic casings of televisions and computers, mattresses, foam cushions, upholstered furniture, drapes and carpets to make them more difficult to burn.

Deca-BDE enters our air, water and soil when these products are made and used. Our children drink it in dust and ingest it in contaminated foods. Items treated with deca-BDE produce toxic gases when they burn, putting our firefighters at extreme health risk.

The Michigan Legislature banned two toxic fire retardants closely related to deca-BDE in 2004. However, deca-BDE, the most widely used form, remains unregulated.

Like PCBs, another known toxin, deca-BDEs persist in the environment for a long time. They build up in the bodies of animals and humans as they move through the food chain. They accumulate in the fatty tissues of living organisms, especially fish. In fact, some of the world’s highest concentrations of these fire retardants have been found in salmon in Lake Michigan.

Babies in the womb and young children are especially vulnerable. Worst of all are the adverse effects on neurological development and cognitive impairment in children. As someone who has worked with children with disabilities for many years, I have seen the hardships they and their families face. I want to do all I can to keep that from happening to others.

Replacing toxic products like deca-BDE with safer alternatives is a good place to start. Many companies are successfully using them already. In fact, no deca-BDE is made in Michigan; we’re actually paying out-of-state companies to contaminate us and our children.

That’s why we must move forward on legislation in the Michigan House of Representatives to phase out deca-BDE in mattresses and residential furniture this year, and in televisions and computers by 2012.

We need to enact strong laws to protect our residents from the long-term health hazards posed by the industrial toxins we are all exposed to every day.

By enacting these laws, promoting the use of safer alternatives and raising awareness, we can reduce the “body burden” we all carry and, more importantly, reduce the toxic legacy we’re leaving our children.

State Representative Terry Brown represents the 84th District (Huron and Tuscola counties). Visit www.isitinus.org to learn more about the biomonitoring project the Browns participated in and the toxic chemicals contained in everyday products we’re all exposed to.
-State Representative Terry Brown (D-Pigeon)
RELATED TOPICS: environmental toxins
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