EPA offers manufacturers alternatives to toxic chemical

EPA seeks to reduce use of flame retardant chemical in manufacturing of car seats, other products

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released a draft report of potential substitutes for manufacturers to use in the place of a toxic flame retardant chemical called decabromodiphenyl (decaBDE).

According to a release from the federal agency, the report, which included public participation, outlines 30 potential alternatives to the chemical and the environmental and health risks posed by each. DecaBDE is scheduled to be phased out for manufacturers in December 2013, the release noted.

DecaBDE, which is a common flame retardant chemical, is used by manufacturers of vehicles, electronics and building materials, the EPA said in the release. Exposure to the chemical has been shown to cause developmental effects, particularly as it persists within the environment and can accumulate in animals and people, the agency said. In addition to the list of alternatives, the EPA said it would continue to work with manufacturers to develop other possible chemical and non-chemical flame retardant substitutes.

"EPA is using all of its tools to reduce the use of hazardous flame retardant chemicals like decaBDE and identify safer, functional substitutes to protect people’s health and the environment," Jim Jones, acting assistant administrator for the federal agency's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP), said in a statement. "Virtually everyone agrees that EPA needs updated authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to more effectively assess and regulate potentially harmful chemicals like flame retardants."

The list of substitute chemicals includes inorganic flame retardant alternatives such as aluminum diethylphosphinate, magnesium hydroxide, zinc borate and red phosphorus, the EPA said in its draft report. According to the federal agency, these alternatives are already on the market and will be used more and more as decaBDE continues to be phased out. Though each of the alternatives has differing amounts of risk for the environment and human or animal exposure, the preliminary report indicates that these flame retardant substitutes may be less toxic and generate less bioaccumulation than decaBDE.

With the EPA looking to aid companies by providing alternatives to decaBDE, some companies have already taken big steps toward making their products safer. Graco Children's Products, which manufactures car seats, swings, strollers and other items, said recently that it plans to ban and monitor Tris and related chemicals from its products.

In a release from the organization Healthy World Healthy Child, CEO Gigi Lee Chang said that the company's move was an important development for child safety.

"Clearly car seats have been a welcome development in protecting our babies from the injuries associated with car accidents," Chang said. "But protecting our children from one risk shouldn’t involve introducing them to another. As we wait for Congress to enact more meaningful chemical reform, we applaud companies like Graco for stepping up and protecting our children’s health."

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