Flame Retardant Levels Decline In San Francisco Bay
Good News for the San Francisco Bay: Controversial PBDEs have started to disappear in bay sediment and wildlife after industry phaseouts and government bans
According to a new study, the levels of one class of flame retardants have fallen over the past decade in the San Francisco Bay. The data on the highly controversial polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) suggest that policies restricting use of a chemical, even a persistent one, can work quickly to reduce its burden on the environment, the researchers say.
“The study really shows that once regulations are put in place, things change fairly rapidly in the environment,” says Marta Venier, an environmental chemist at Indiana University, who wasn’t involved in the work. “I think we need more and more of these studies to convince regulators” of the value of moving forward with regulations for controversial substances, she adds.
Flame retardants are used widely in furniture, electronics, and other consumer products. Environmental scientists have argued for regulations on the chemicals because they can easily volatilize and escape into the environment. Also, studies have shown that PBDEs break down slowly and could harm neurological development and potentially disrupt hormone signaling in humans and animals. As a result, the U.S. banned the manufacture and import of one PBDE formulation, pentaBDE, in 2005, and another, decaBDE, is currently being phased out nationally. Industry has started to move away from PBDEs to other flame-retardant families.
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