Isles’ ban of flame retardants
is nation’s strictest
Gov. Linda Lingle has signed into law the nation's toughest measure banning products with flame-retardant chemicals linked to harmful health effects, according to a mainland environmental official.
Bill Walker, Oakland, Calif.-based West Coast vice president of the Environmental Working Group, said he is delighted that Hawaii's law covers all polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) used to reduce risk of fire in car seats, fabrics, furniture, clothing and other products.
Dr. Barbara Brooks, state Health Department toxicologist, will discuss polybrominated diphenyl ethers at an informational session 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Wednesday in Room 309 at the state Capitol.
Brooks will describe how the chemicals get into the environment and potential health effects.
A discussion will follow on implementation and enforcement of a state law to ban products with the chemicals from Hawaii.
The public is asked to pre-register by calling the Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawaii at 951-5805 or e-mailing email@example.com.
The chemicals have been linked to brain and nerve damage and other detrimental effects on people, animals and the environment.
Studies have shown the average level of the chemical in human breast milk is 75 times higher in American mothers than in European ones.
A recent study by the Environmental Working Group of household dust found high levels of the neurotoxic compounds in all homes sampled. Risks are particularly great for children who ingest or inhale dust, the group said.
The average level of the chemicals in dust collected from nine homes was more than 4,600 parts per billion, well above the average in any previous U.S. dust study.
A 10th sample taken from a home where fire-retardant products had been removed had more than 41,000 parts per billion, twice as high as any other dust study worldwide, the group said.
Manufacturers have agreed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to phase out two types of PBDEs, Penta and Octa, by the end of this year but are fighting to continue using a third compound, Deca.
California was the first state to pass a law banning Penta and Octa, beginning in 2008. Of six other states considering bans or regulation of the fire-retardant chemicals, only New York, Washington and Hawaii have addressed Deca.
Hawaii has a tougher restriction than any other state, banning products containing more than one-tenth of 1 percent of Penta or Octa "or any other chemical formulation that is part of these classifications." It will take effect Jan. 1, 2006.
A priority of the Women's Legislative Caucus this year, the initial House bill banned products only with Octa and Penta, but House-Senate conferees broadened the language.
Sen. J. Kalani English (D, Wailuku-Kahului-Upcountry), Energy and Environment Committee chairman, said he wanted to make sure the entire class of PBDEs was covered so there are no loopholes.
"A lot of times when they present us with scientific names of chemicals, we ban that," he said. "Then they change one molecule and say it's not banned."
Rep. Barbara Marumoto (R, Kahala-Waialae-Maunalani Heights) said environmental and consumer protection leaders in both houses were concerned.
Walker said Deca is more widely used than Penta and Octa, and that it builds up in people and breaks down in the environment. "There are a lot of indications if we just take care of Penta and Octa, we aren't really dealing with the problem," he said.
"It's great what Hawaii is doing, but the EPA ought to be dealing with this rather than states individually," Walker said.