Doing its best under a flawed law: 35 groups file comments supporting EPA efforts to reduce exposure to toxic flame retardants

Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., is a Health Scientist. Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

Today Environmental Defense Fund and Earthjustice, joined by 33 other health and environmental groups, filed comments that urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to swiftly move forward with two proposed actions to regulate a group of toxic flame retardants called PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers). 

The first proposed rule would require anyone intending to begin production, processing or import of any PBDE, or a product containing one, to notify EPA before doing so.  This would give the agency an opportunity to evaluate the risks of the proposed activity and if necessary take action to restrict or prohibit it.  The second proposed rule would require anyone who continues after 2013 to produce, process or import any PBDE, or a product containing one, to conduct extensive tests needed to allow EPA to determine the risks posed by those ongoing activities.  

While the significance of these rules may not be self-evident, these are some of the most stringent restrictions that EPA is permitted to take to regulate the safety of chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the flawed and obsolete statute that ties EPA’s hands in trying to ensure the safety of the chemicals that are produced and used in this country. 

The groups’ comments filed today:

  • strongly support EPA’s decision to apply the notification and testing requirements to products containing PBDEs, and rebut arguments made by others against applying them to products;
  • urge EPA to apply the requirements to recycled products containing PBDEs whether the PBDEs are intentionally or only incidentally added to the products;
  • urge EPA to require that importers of PBDEs as part of a product comply with import certification requirements, and to require exporters of products containing PBDEs to notify EPA of the export; and
  • given the strong evidence that PBDEs pose significant risks, urge EPA to finalize the proposed rules as soon as possible.

It is critical that EPA maintain in a final rule its proposal to extend the rules to cover products containing PBDEs.  PBDEs are detected in the bodies of most Americans—at levels higher than found in people living elsewhere in the world—largely as a result of their release from everyday household items such as furniture, electronics, and mattresses.  Among other effects, studies show that PBDEs can disrupt normal brain development in ways that lead to learning disabilities and behavioral impairments.  This is especially troublesome in light of the fact that PBDEs persist in the environment, move up the food chain, and bioaccumulate.

The recent Chicago Tribune series, “Playing with Fire,” details a decades-long campaign of deceit by the chemical industry to keep PBDEs on the market, in our homes, and in our bodies.  The serious risks posed by PBDEs highlighted in this expose—recognized for years by advocacy groups, researchers, and health professionals—have garnered the attention of officials at the highest levels.  Earlier this month 26 Senators wrote a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging her agency to “move as quickly as possible with its current efforts to protect American families from the toxic effects of PBDEs”—which include finalizing the proposed rules that are the subject of the comments the groups filed today.

For more information please see the groups’:


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