Ground Water Canada

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IJC moves to reduce PBDE fire-retardant chemicals in Great Lakes


December 19, 2016
By Ground Water Canada

Windsor, Ont., and Detroit, Mich. – The International Joint Commission recently released a report recommending the governments of Canada and the United States adopt a strategy to address toxic polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in the Great Lakes, to reduce risks to human health and the environment.

PBDEs, a class of flame retardants widely used since the 1970s, have been found in the Great Lakes at levels that could be harmful to human health, the commission (IJC) said in a news release. Present in a wide range of commercial and consumer products, such as electronic devices, appliances, carpets, mattresses and furniture, PBDEs are a concern because they are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to both humans and the environment.

Adverse impacts on wildlife include increased mortality rates, malformations, and thyroid system and metabolic impairment. Health effects in humans possibly associated with PBDE exposure relate primarily to thyroid disorders, reproductive health, cancers and neurobehavioral and developmental disorders, the release said.

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Although production of various PBDEs has been banned or is being phased out, residual PBDE flame retardants are still present throughout the Great Lakes basin in a vast array of products. PBDEs were designated by the governments of Canada and the United States as a Chemical of Mutual Concern (CMC) in May 2016 under Annex 3 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

The IJC’s recommendations in the report are based on the work of the Great Lakes Water Quality Board, principal advisor to the IJC under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The report recommends that federal, state and provincial governments address polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in the Great Lakes by:

  • Developing and implementing a binational strategy to reduce PBDEs to the Great Lakes before the end of 2017;
  • Applying equally effective restrictions on the manufacture, use and sale of PBDEs and PBDE‑containing products throughout the basin;
  • Developing a plan for reducing and eliminating potential releases of PBDEs in products during the recycling and disposal stages;
  • Guiding industry on methods to assess PBDE substitutes and encouraging use of alternative methods for addressing flammability; and
  • Increasing monitoring of PBDEs in the environment in order to assess the effectiveness of polices aimed at reducing their presence.