May 24, 2004

Draft scientific review of flame retardants released for comment

A draft scientific assessment of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), commonly used as flame retardants, indicates that these chemicals are harmful to the environment; as well, some chemicals within this group are bioaccumulative and can remain in the environment for a number of years. PBDEs are used to treat plastics, foams, and other materials used in many household and commercial products.

While overall concentrations of PBDEs in the environment are still low, the assessment found there has been an increase in levels since the early 1990s, and that current levels in some areas may pose a risk to the development and health of some wildlife and invertebrates.

The draft scientific assessment has been published in the May 8, 2004 edition of the Canada Gazette, Part I. It will be finalized following a 60-day public comment period.

"Environment Canada is working with industry and other stakeholders to prepare an action plan to minimize the impact of PBDEs on the environment," said Environment Minister David Anderson. "Research in other countries has shown that it is possible to reverse the increase in PBDEs in the environment by reducing their use."

Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew noted that "Health Canada's assessment found no evidence that current levels of PBDEs in the environment are harming human health. Health effects have been observed in laboratory animals, but only at doses much greater than those to which people are exposed in Canada."

The flame retardants that are likely of greatest concern are already being phased out of use in Canada. Their use has also been banned or phased out in several other jurisdictions, including California and the European Union.

The draft screening assessment report on polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) may be viewed on-line at www.ec.gc.ca/CEPARegistry/default.cfm. The site includes additional information on the assessment and frequently asked questions (FAQs) on PBDEs.

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