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Maryland Considers Banning A Common Flame Retardant

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By Sabri Ben-Achour

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced it will take a closer look at a common fire retardant called Decabrominated Diphenyl Ether (DecaDBE). It's one of a family of flame retardants called Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers. They're commonly used in household plastics that make up things such as furniture and electronics.

Jenny Levin is with Maryland Public Interest Research Group.

"This is a chemical linked by over 100 peer reviewed studies to neuro-developmental problems such as hyperactivity, problems with learning and memory," says Levin.

But almost all of those studies were conducted with animals, and the science is not conclusive enough for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to propose a ban on DecaBDE. The EPA has arranged for a voluntary phaseout by some major U.S. producers and an importer by 2014.

Two bills in Maryland would go further and ban it altogether. One would go into effect at the end of 2010, the other in 2014, paralleling the voluntary phaseout.

But some businesses don’t yet have a good substitute. Lewis Taffer is with iGPS, a company that uses plastic palates for shipping.

"It's the most widely used and most heavily tested flame retardant in the world, there is no question that it saves thousands of people's lives every year and millions of dollars in property," says Taffer.

Taffer and others argue that if Maryland bans DecaBDE the state should give businesses more time to find an alternative.

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