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Saturday, January 21, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Agencies seek ban on flame retardants

Seattle Times staff reporter

It should be illegal to make or sell products that contain certain chemical flame retardants that are currently used in everything from televisions and computers to sofas and automobile seats, the state's environmental and public-health agencies announced Friday.

The State Department of Health and the Department of Ecology are urging state lawmakers to ban all trade in polybrominated diphenyl ethers, commonly called PBDEs, in response to a wave of recent research showing that they are accumulating in people and animals.

While the risk to humans is not yet fully clear, the chemicals can alter brain development and cause reproductive problems in laboratory animals. State officials want to halt the use of PBDEs now as a precaution.

Specifically, the two agencies are asking the Legislature to immediately ban the two most problematic forms of PBDEs, which once were used in foam products, furniture, and high-impact plastics such as those used to make fax machines and telephone handsets. Most U.S. manufacturers stopped using those types of chemicals in 2004, but the ban would prevent shipments of contaminated items from overseas.

State officials also recommend banning a third type of the flame-retardant chemical, known as deca, as long as safe alternatives are available. Deca, primarily used in televisions, computers and other types of electronics, is not believed to be harmful, but it is thought to break down into more dangerous chemicals.

Consumer watchdogs have been urging stronger fire-safety standards for mattresses and other home products, which could lead to a rise in the use of deca.

"We don't want to outright ban something now, only to find out later that the alternatives are worse," said Greg Sorlie of the Department of Ecology.

It's too soon to tell how the proposal will fare in the Legislature.

Lawmakers have considered similar bans but have not passed them in previous sessions. Chemical manufacturers oppose the ban, and the Association of Washington Business, in the past, has offered mixed critiques.

Environmentalists, for the moment, are pleased.

"We are really happy with the plan because it supports legislation we're pushing this year," said Ivy Sager-Rosenthal, environmental health advocate with the Washington Toxics Coalition. "What's most important is that it tries to phase out deca, which is still pretty common."

Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or cwelch@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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