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PBDEs not the Issue in the Sound

PBDEs not the issue

PBDEs not the issue in the Sound


January 23, 2007

As a co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace, I am saddened to see environmental activists get their facts — and their priorities — so wrong. A Jan. 19 P-I editorial is a good case in point.

The P-I now supports a bill that ultimately would ban the deca form of chemical flame-retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. Yet the so-called facts upon which this ban is based are plain wrong.

The Department of Ecology’s most recent survey of freshwater lakes and rivers — and the fish in those bodies of water — found no evidence of deca. These are the same lakes and rivers that are the conduits of pollution in Puget Sound.

So banning PBDEs, including deca, is not going to clean up Puget Sound because PBDEs are not the issue in the Sound.

More important, in my view, such a ban is irresponsible because it would contribute to reduced health and safety among Washingtonians who benefit from the use of life-saving deca-BDE, the only PBDE in use, whether in homes, schools, hospitals, automobiles, airplanes or elsewhere.

Washington state has no flammability standards for furniture, so if deca is removed, there is absolutely no requirement for furniture manufacturers to replace it with anything.

I believe that leaves Washingtonians at serious risk.

The editorial also got it wrong on the regulation of deca in other jurisdictions. Contrary to the P-I, Japan and the European Union do not have any stricter controls on the use of deca than Washington.

The fact is the European Union and California both conducted long scientific studies and ultimately chose a more responsible course of action than Washington state is pursuing — one that was far less likely to endanger their constituents by decreasing fire safety.

More important, environmental organizations in Washington had an opportunity last year to support a House proposal based on the California and the EU policies — a House proposal that would have protected people and the environment. Instead, they chose to promote a blanket ban that would have robbed Washingtonians of the safety benefits of Deca-BDE.

After a 10-year risk assessment, which evaluated more than 580 studies, the EU concluded that deca-BDE, an important flame retardant with the most scientific data proving its compatibility in terms of human health, low and manageable risks for the environment and its tremendous contribution to society in terms of fire safety, does not pose health or environmental risks.

For California’s part, the state Senate Office of Research conducted in-depth scientific analysis of deca-BDE and concluded in 2004 that no action should be taken against deca-BDE.

As for other U.S. jurisdictions, there is no ban or restriction on the use of deca-BDE in any product anywhere. While activist-funded studies show that trace amounts of the compounds can be measured in humans, agencies have tended to acknowledge these measurements are in parts per billion, or parts per trillion, and that no harm to human health or the environment has been documented.

While activists promote a ban on deca, detailed safety studies on the alternatives simply have not been done. How do we know that proposed alternatives, which have yet to even be named, will be any safer, or will not pose serious risks? The fact is we don’t.

When I helped found Greenpeace, I had in mind an organization — and later a movement — that would not simply speak truth to power, but more specifically would speak scientific truth to power. In the case of the P-I’s recent editorial, I fear scientific truth has fallen off the table in favor of misinformation and scare tactics.

Such an outcome needlessly puts people’s safety at risk, when there is simply no evidence of human harm and much evidence of great benefit to human safety.

Patrick Moore is a co-founder of Greenpeace and is chairman and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver, B.C.;

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