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Bi-national commission recommends ways to keep flame retardants out of Great Lakes

If you see this label, your piece of furniture likely contains flame retardant chemicals.
Mark Brush
Michigan Radio

The International Joint Commission has released recommendations to limit the toxic impacts of flame retardant chemicals in the Great Lakes environment.

The IJC is a treaty organization that advises the U.S. and Canadian governments. The five recommendations are laid out in a report letter sent to both federal governments this week.

Toxic flame retardant chemicals are present in a number of common household products, ranging from mattresses and furniture to electronics.

Sally Cole-Misch, communications director for the IJC’s Great Lakes Regional office, says both the U.S. and Canada have phased out the manufacture and import of one major flame retardant compound, Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs).

“However, we are finding that there are other flame retardant chemicals that have been used in their place that are equally toxic to the environment and to humans,” Cole-Misch said.

The IJC recommends consolidating regulatory decision-making about those chemicals, so that “product flammability standards, toxicity standards for flame retardants, and use of redesign options are approached in an integrated way.”

Another recommendation is to launch public education campaigns about products that contain flame retardants and the risks they pose, finding ways to reduce risk in the environment, and providing better product labeling.

Cole-Misch says another key recommendation is to develop extended producer responsibility programs for products that contain flame retardants. “That means that producers that make that couch, for example, are then also responsible for creating proper recycling and disposal options,” she said.

The IJC says it “expects that these recommendations will be useful to the two federal governments as they finalize their draft Binational Strategy for Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) Risk Management.” 

PBDEs and similar flame retardant chemicals are persistent, toxic, and bioaccumulative, meaning they are stored in the tissues of living organisms up and down the food chain. Known harms of exposure are increased mortality rates, malformations, and thyroid and metabolic system impairment.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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