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Heal Toxics is a member of the International POPs Elimination Network

This website provides resources on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) such as pesticides, dioxins, PCBs, and wastes. Valuable examples of community monitoring of health and environmental impacts of toxic chemicals are also furnished.

Further, there is an entire section devoted to chemical safety in its proper socio-political context or in relation to issues such as globalization and people's empowerment.


Toxic Fire Retardants Discovered in Dust Taken From Computers in Offices and Schools

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 milk samples
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”, concluded Smith.

CTBC and CPA gathered sixteen samples of dust from the monitors of computers
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 reassurances that
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”, concluded Wood.

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 Union
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 exposure to
these chemicals, despite action to ban PBDEs in a handful of states. Maine
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”, concluded Smith.

The full report can be downloaded from www.computertakeback.com

©heal toxics, 2003
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