Maryland advocates for a ban on a toxic flame retardant that accumulates in the environment and has been linked to cancer and brain development problems intend to pursue an earlier phaseout of the chemical than the timeline currently spelled out in a recent federal agreement.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced last month that the three largest manufacturers and importers of decabromodiphenyl ether, also known as decaBDE, had negotiated a pact to phase out the chemical, used in upholstery, mattresses, electronics and more, by 2013.
Del. James W. Hubbard, a Prince George's County Democrat who has introduced bills banning decaBDE during the past two General Assembly sessions, said he plans to resubmit his bill, this time calling for phaseout within two years.
"I think Maryland deserves to have a year's head start in trying to get this accumulation out of the environment," he said.
His bill will also call for state and federal environmental regulators to "make sure that alternatives used to replace deca aren't more toxic than deca," Hubbard said.
But representatives of the flame-retardant industry say they will continue to oppose a statewide deca ban, as they have in the past.
"We think the timeline that's been worked out with the EPA is the most appropriate timeline because of the breadth of the use of deca," said Joel Tenney, director of advocacy for ICL Industrial Products. The Israel-based deca importer was one of the three companies that signed the EPA memorandum of understanding.
State supporters of a deca ban include environmental groups, as well as those representing firefighters.
"The sooner, the better for us," said Mike Rund, president of the Professional Firefighters of Maryland, an organization of union-represented firefighters.
It might seem counterintuitive that firefighters oppose the use of a flame retardant, but decaBDE does burn, according to Rund. When it ignites, "it puts off a thick, black smoke that makes it much harder for firefighters to go in and do their jobs," he said, preventing rescuers from spotting people who might still be inside burning structures.
It also releases toxic gas, and alternatives that don't contain bromine or chlorine are available, Rund said.
According to the EPA, which has classified the chemical as a "possible human carcinogen," research has shown that deca accumulates in people's bodies. Studies on animals indicate that exposure to such substances causes toxicity to the liver, kidney and thyroid glands, as well as the nervous system.
Deca also breaks down into other toxic chemicals such as octa- and pentaBDE, according to EPA reports. Maryland banned those flame retardants in 2005, and manufacturers have voluntarily stopped using them.
Some manufacturers such as Sony and Dell have already stopped using deca in favor of less-toxic alternatives, including materials that are naturally less susceptible to burning, said Kathy Curtis, who coordinates campaigns for the Environmental Health Fund to replace brominated flame retardants with more healthful options.
Tenney said his company disagreed with the EPA's characterization of the threat deca poses. The agreement negotiated with the EPA was designed to remove the chemical from electronics by 2011 and from everything except for transportation uses by 2012. That gives car and airplane manufacturers time to develop alternatives by 2013, Tenney said.
"We think that what we've put together is aggressive and appropriate for all the stakeholders in this discussion," Tenney said.
But the EPA agreement is voluntary and only applies to three companies, Hubbard said.
"If you put it in a statute, then a legislative body has to take a look at it before it can be changed," the delegate said. By contrast, if any party to the deca memorandum decided not to honor it, there would be nothing to compel that party to comply.
"By doing it statutorially, you hit all the bases - you don't just hit a couple," Hubbard said.
Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.