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

Proposed ban on toxic flame retardant in electronics will protect Canadians, environment

Canada’s move to follow the European Union in phasing out highly toxic chemicals used as flame retardants in electronics is a positive step toward protecting public health, according to several
environmental groups.

“This revised plan for Canada is great news,” said Lisa Gue, environmental health policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation. “For over two years, we have called on the federal government to follow the lead of Europe and other jurisdictions to ban all forms of PBDEs.” she said.

The Government of Canada is proposing to restrict the use, import, and sale of electronics containing the dangerous flame retardant DecaBDE. This chemical is a part of a family of polybrominated flame retardants (PBDEs) that are known to build up in the food chain and that are highly toxic to humans, with links to cancer, and effects on the developing brain, immune, reproductive and hormonal systems.

“Since 80 per cent of DecaBDE is used in electronics and electrcal equipment, this measure is a significant step forward in terms of protecting Canadians from the many effects of PBDEs,” said senior
scientist Elaine MacDonald from Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund). DecaBDE is used to a lesser extent in textiles such as carpets and furniture.

Canada declared PBDEs as ‘toxic’ in 2006. However, the associated regulations at that time only addressed obsolete forms of the chemical. A number of nongovernmental organizations formally objected to the fact that the regulations would still allow the use of DecaBDE, the only remaining PBDE mixture still widely used in manufacturing worldwide.

Kathleen Cooper, senior researcher with the Canadian Environmental Law Association notes that “The legacy of these toxic chemicals will remain in our homes and the scientific evidence justifies a total ban on all PBDE uses.” Widely used as flame retardants in household products, PBDEs are released into the environment through product use and disposal and via industrial emissions. They have been found in house dust, high-fat foods, human blood, and breast milk and throughout the Canadian environment from the Great Lakes to the Arctic at rates that are significantly increasing over time.

“These measures align our management of these chemicals in Canada with that of other leading urisdictions. This is a great and very welcomed step-forward and we congratulate the federal government for taking this action,” said Environmental Defence Executive Director Rick Smith. “We support this announcement and call for the substitution of these chemicals with proven, safer alternatives.”

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