by Duane Craig
New concerns coming from the land Down Under have put polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs) squarely in the spotlight. Australia’s Cooperative Research Centers says the level of PBDE contamination could be growing in Australian buildings, and kids are the ones who get the heaviest exposures.
PBDEs, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are a class of flame retardant that is used in plastics, foams and fabrics. The types of products that get treated with PBDEs are items such as furniture foam (pentaBDE), TV cabinets, consumer electronics, coatings on the backs of drapes and on upholstery(decaBDE). Personal computers and small appliances may be treated with octaBDE. The agency has required notification 90 days before pentaBDE and octaBDE are going to be manufactured in the country, or imported. Those two substances haven’t been produced in the U.S. since 2004. The EPA has a plan to phase out use of decaBDE by the end of 2013 and on December 17, 2009 secured an agreement with the two principle producers of the substance that they would end all uses by 2013.
DecaBDE degrades into toxic chemicals that contaminate and stay in the environment. These chemicals are hazardous to wildlife and may cause cancer in humans and affect brain functions, among other things. PBDEs seem to increase in the environment over time and have been found throughout the food chain. In Australia, 22 of 29 dust samples from homes were contaminated with the substance. Australia doesn’t produce any of the material so it is arriving with imports.