Urges High Tech Industry to Move Faster
to Find Safer Materials
In the first nationwide analysis of brominated fire retardants
in dust samples swiped from computers, the Computer Take-Back
Campaign (CTBC) and Clean Production Action (CPA) found toxic
chemicals known to be reproductive and neurological hazards in
animal lab tests. The highest levels found were a form of polybrominated
diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) called deca-BDE— one of the most
widely used fire retardant chemicals in the electronics industry.
PBDEs are increasingly being found in human tissue and breast
here in the US and abroad. “We bought these computer systems
assuming that they were safe for us to use. Now, these results
indicate we’re being exposed to toxic dusts from computers
on the job”, said Ted Smith of Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition. “Consumers should be outraged and demand action”,
CTBC and CPA gathered sixteen samples of dust from the monitors
in a variety of public locations in eight states across the United
States, including university computer labs, legislative offices
and a children’s museum.
Since the 1970s, the electronics industry has been one of the
largest consumers of PBDEs, relying on the brominated class of
chemicals to meet fire safety standards, because bromine is relatively
inexpensive. Brominated fire retardants (BFRs), especially PBDEs,
are persistent in the environment and contaminate the food chain,
animals, and people. North American women have the highest levels
globally of these chemicals in their breast milk and these levels
are doubling in the US population every two to five years.
“The bromine chemical manufacturers have provided false
these chemicals are safe. Because these chemicals build up in
the body, even
low levels of deca-BDE and other brominated chemicals found in
the dust samples are cause for concern”, said David Wood
of the Grassroots Recycling
Network. “Chemicals that persist in the environment and
in our breast milk,
blood, livers and thyroids should not be allowed in commerce—they
are causing a serious chemical trespass to our bodies”,
There has been considerable effort both in the United States
and Europe over
the last two years to assess the potential public health and environmental
impacts of PBDEs. Available scientific data prompted the European
to take action to phase-out all PBDEs in consumer electronics
sold in Europe by 2006. However, deca-BDE, the most used PBDE
in commerce, has been fiercely defended by the bromine industry
and is still in use in the United States.
The United States lags behind Europe in working to reduce human
these chemicals, despite action to ban PBDEs in a handful of states.
recently became the first state to ban the sale of products containing
deca-BDE assuming safer alternatives are available. California
banned the production and use of penta- and octa-BDE in 2003.
Variations of these bills are being developed in other states,
including New York, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. The state of
Washington also has an Executive Order to develop a phase-out
plan for all PBDEs.
“We have enough evidence to act now”, said Beverley
Thorpe of Clean Production Action. “”The good news
is that some companies are replacing these toxic chemicals with
safer materials and we urge all brand name companies to move faster
in implementing safer solutions”, concluded Thorpe.
The report released today evaluates the latest advancements
in company research and adoption of non-brominated fire retardants.
Some companies such
as Apple, Toshiba, Dell, NEC and Hewlett Packard are redesigning
their electronic products to avoid the use of toxic fire retardants
and still meet top level fire safety standards. Much of this activity
comes in response to the phase out legislation in Europe, which
impacts US manufacturers who sell to European customers.
“With PBDEs rapidly accumulating in our bodies, possibly
through exposure to
everyday dust in our homes, and workplaces, the US government
needs to mandate a shift to less-toxic alternatives throughout
the entire electronics industry by banning these harmful chemicals”,
The full report can be downloaded from www.computertakeback.com