April 24, 2007

OTTAWA – The federal government’s plan to “manage” toxic fire-retardant chemicals rather than ban them puts Canadians’ health at risk, say leading environmental groups.

The government today convened a meeting focusing on the continued use of decaBDEs – toxic chemicals manufactured outside of Canada but used in many common household items. These chemicals are carcinogenic and known to impair development, including developing brain, immune, reproductive and hormonal systems. Commonly used in enclosures for TV sets, home electronics, textiles, mattresses and furniture, decaBDE is found in increasing levels in household and office dust and in rising levels in the environment, infants and human breast milk.

“These chemicals should be banned, all of them,” says Lisa Gue, environmental health policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation. “Instead of obeying its own law to ban these persistent toxic chemicals, the government is asking us to talk about how to manage their continued use.”

Sierra Legal, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, and Environmental Defence recently filed a formal legal challenge, or Notice of Objection, under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) over the government’s proposed regulations of these brominated flame-retardants. So far, the government has made a hollow effort, proposing a ban on those PBDEs that have already been discontinued, and refusing to also ban the ongoing and rising use of deca-BDEs. The groups charge that under CEPA, the government is breaking its own law.

“The proposed regulations ignore recent and damning scientific evidence about the most prevalent form of PBDEs, the decaBDEs,” says Dr. Elaine MacDonald, senior scientist with Sierra Legal. “Equally galling, we have found that alternative fire retardants are available across the spectrum of decaBDE uses.”

“Today’s consultations are moving the process in the wrong direction by avoiding a ban on these chemicals,” says Kathleen Cooper, senior researcher with the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

Sierra Legal staff lawyer Hugh Wilkins says the groups have requested a review under the federal environmental law calling for a full and up-to-date inquiry into scientific evidence showing the nature and extent of the public danger posed by these PBDEs.

“If Environment Minister John Baird does not grant our request for a Board of Review, we will need to consider further legal options,” Mr. Wilkins says. “The public deserves a full and up-to-date inquiry into the dangers of PBDEs and full regulatory action as required by law.”

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For more information, please contact:

Elaine MacDonald, Senior Scientist, Sierra Legal (416) 368-7533, ext. 27
Hugh Wilkins, Counsel, Sierra Legal (416) 368-7533, ext. 34
Lisa Gue, Environmental Health Policy Analyst, David Suzuki Foundation (613) 594-5428
Kathleen Cooper, Senior Researcher, Canadian Environmental Law Association 416-960-2284, ext. 221