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Senators Want More Scrutiny Of Flame Retardants

Risk Assessment: Lawmakers ask EPA to analyze health risks of a broad array of chemicals

by Cheryl Hogue
February 20, 2013

CLARIFICATION: This story was updated on Feb. 22, 2013, to add comment from EPA.

Twenty-three U.S. senators today called for the Environmental Protection Agency to increase the number of flame-retardant chemicals it is assessing for health risks.

EPA is currently conducting detailed risk assessments of a class of structurally related flame retardants—polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)—and four other individual flame-retardant compounds. After the agency finishes the assessments, it will decide whether regulatory action to control any of the substances is needed. Industry is already phasing out PBDEs and is abandoning one of the other four chemicals, hexabromocyclododecane.

The senators—22 Democrats and an Independent—pointed out in a letter to EPA Acting Administrator Robert Perciasepe that dozens of other widely used flame retardants are not scheduled for detailed scrutiny by the agency. The lawmakers point to a growing body of peer-reviewed studies finding flame retardants in people’s bodies and homes. Some of these substances, in other research, have been linked to hormone disruption, adverse neurological effects, and other adverse health outcomes.

“Americans, and particularly children, continue to be exposed to toxic flame-retardant chemicals on a daily basis in their homes,” the senators wrote. “This is a serious public health concern that requires a risk assessment by EPA.”

An agency official told C&EN in October 2012 that EPA planned to select more flame retardants for detailed assessments in coming months. To date, it has not done so.

The letter could signal a growing interest in flame-retardant safety by the Senate Superfund, Toxics & Environmental Health Subcommittee. All five Democrats on that panel, including Chairman Tom Udall (D-N.M.), signed it.

EPA tells C&EN that the agency will announce in March which additional chemicals it will assess as part of a strategy on brominated flame retardants.



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