April 2, 2008

Toronto – The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) is crying foul over attempts by the bromine chemical industry to boost sales of toxic fire retardant chemicals under the guise of international “standard-setting” for fire safety. Joining an international outcry of over 200 concerned experts, organizations and individuals, CELA has endorsed The Case Against Candle Resistant Electronics. At issue is an International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standard to be voted on April 25, 2008 by representatives of 14 participating countries, including Canada.

The IEC standard would require that the external plastic casings of all electronics (e.g., computers, televisions, phones, scanners, calculators, video cameras, CD players, etc.) be resistant to ignition from a candle flame and that they should therefore contain brominated flame retardants for “safety reasons.”

Evidence shows that very few fires begin this way and that existing standards for fire safety are effective and sufficient. The proposed standard is not necessary and certainly not benign. Many studies have shown that brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are released from consumer goods, contaminating indoor and outdoor environments. Because of their high toxicity and environmental persistence, these chemicals are subject to bans and restrictions worldwide.  “Studies show that BFR levels are rising rapidly in indoor dust, in wildlife species around the world, and in people, including in breast milk,” stated Kathleen Cooper, Senior Researcher with CELA. “These chemicals are associated with adverse impacts on brain development, reproductive abnormalities, cancer and other adverse health impacts in animal studies. The use of these chemicals should be banned, not expanded.”

Adding BFRs to myriad consumer products will also undermine efforts to address the burgeoning problem of electronic waste. Increasing the load of fire retardants in the plastic waste stream can make recycling and electronic take-back programs more difficult, costly, dangerous and even impossible. Moreover, the burning of electronics treated with these chemicals can and will produce even more highly toxic, persistent chemicals, including dioxins and furans.

 In writing today to the Canadian National Committee of the IEC (a body established within the Canadian Standards Association) CELA expressed concerns that this committee can influence a decision with such far-reaching implications. “Canadians have no opportunity to participate in the formation of these standards or hold their government accountable for them. They certainly would not support standards that are overwhelmingly intended to sell toxic chemicals under a false pretence of ensuring fire safety,” Ms Cooper noted. CELA learned late yesterday that the US Consumer Electronic Association has recommended against the candle flammability requirement noting insufficient data to warrant a hazard and recognizing the health and environmental concerns that have been raised. CELA urges the Canadian National Committee to vote “No” on April 25th and urges Canadians to also write to the CNC/IEC, to the federal Ministers of Health and Environment and to their Member of Parliament.  

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For more information: Kathleen Cooper, cell: 705-341-2488 or 416, 960-2284, ext 221, kcooper@cela.ca