Posted on January 18, 2010 (updated: January 18, 2010)

Canada under fire over toxic PBDEs

Environment Minister John Baird is under fire from environmental groups to address the most common form of a group of toxic chemicals known as Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs).  New regulations published this week place a ban on the use of PBDEs that have already been phased out, but exempts the only commercial PBDE mixture still in use – DecaBDE.

“Canada should follow the lead of Europe, the largest chemicals market in the world, as well as other jurisdictions, that have already banned all forms of PBDEs,” said scientist Dr. Elaine MacDonald from Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund). “The new regulations simply enshrine the status quo and ignore crucial scientific evidence that provides justification for a total ban on all PBDEs.”

The regulations also prohibit the manufacture of PBDEs, but these chemicals have never been manufactured in Canada.

Widely used as flame retardants in household products like electronics, carpets and furniture, PBDEs are rapidly accumulating in the environment and animals including humans.  Canada declared PBDEs as ‘toxic’ in 2006 and various studies have linked them to serious health impacts including developmental, reproductive and neurological disorders and cancer.

The government initially published its proposal for PBDE regulations in 2006.  At that time, Ecojustice filed a formal objection on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation, Canadian Environmental Law Association and Environmental Defence, contending that the regulations should include a ban on all forms of PBDEs. The final regulations published this week fail to address the groups’ concerns, mirroring instead the approach endorsed by industry representatives.

“We are concerned that trade is trumping health,” said Kathleen Cooper, senior researcher at the Canadian Environmental Law Association. “These regulations won’t reduce our exposure to these chemicals. They ban the PBDEs industry no longer uses, don’t address the ones they do, and we’re still waiting for action on the biggest source of PBDE exposure: the ongoing import of consumer products containing DecaBDE.”

Environment Minister John Baird also has yet to respond to the formal Notice of Objection submitted by environmental groups more than a year ago. The groups wrote Baird again today reiterating earlier requests for a meeting to discuss the need to strengthen the regulatory approach for PBDEs, one of the first chemicals to pass through the federal Chemicals Management Plan process.

“If we can’t get it right on PBDEs, what is in store for the thousands of other substances now being assessed?” said Lisa Gue, environmental health policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation. “Canadians deserve effective and timely action to stop the accumulation of toxic chemicals in our environment.”

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