Legislation to Ban Flame Retardant Draws Opposition

By LAURA SCHWARTZMAN, Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS (April 1, 2008) - Chemical companies are fighting against a bill approved by House lawmakers last month that would ban the manufacture, sale or distribution of products containing a common but potentially toxic flame retardant.

Raymond Dawson of the Albemarle Corporation, a chemical company, told the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee that the flame retardant known as "deca-BDE" or "deca" has saved "hundreds, perhaps thousands" of lives.

But proponents of the bill, including Richard Eskin, director of the Science Services Administration at the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the chemical could possibly degrade into the related chemicals octa-BDE and penta-BDE, flame retardants that were prohibited by the legislature in 2005.

The 2005 bill takes effect this October, and HB 1 would take effect in January 2010. Several organizations representing firefighters in Maryland support the bill.

Citizens for Fire Safety, a group representing chemical manufacturers and fire safety advocates, sent literature to the constituents of state senators on the committee urging opposition to HB 1, which would ban most usages of the chemical.

"Let's not be fooled by an industry scare tactic," said Delegate James Hubbard, D-Prince George's, the bill's sponsor. "Consider the public health of our citizens."

Deca-BDE is often used in cable insulation, electrical appliance casings and some upholstery, but not in clothing. The committee heard testimony on the bill Tuesday.

Bill Pitcher, a lawyer representing Citizens for Fire Safety, said deca-BDE has been proven safe for continued use, although studies are ongoing.

The version of the bill heard by the Senate committee exempts vehicles and vehicle parts through amendments that were added in response to opposition from the auto industry.

"If you're going to keep putting all the exemptions in it, [the bill] isn't going to solve anything," Pitcher said. "If 10 million cars out there are exempt, then what are we doing here in the first place?"

Hubbard said people are not likely to be exposed to the deca-BDE used in vehicles, which is why he allowed the amendments.

"You're not sitting under the hood," he said.

Eskin said "science is moving fairly quickly" and that deca-BDE is a suspected carcinogen that has been found in human breast milk and blood, posing a particular risk to children.

He said the chemical has also been linked to increases in liver cancer in rats and mice.

Hubbard said several companies are working to phase out the use of brominated flame retardants, which include deca-BDE.

He submitted a list of alternative flame retardants with his testimony, but opponents said alternatives are not yet as well-researched as deca-BDE.

Pitcher said the bill poses several "hassles," including the difficulty of enforcing a ban on a chemical found in several common products, many of which are manufactured by out-of-state companies that will have to figure out ways to maintain business in Maryland.

"They can't just wave a magic wand and make it go away," he said.

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