San Francisco Bay’s lower flame retardant levels show regulation’s muscle

By on February 16, 2015

Regulations designed to lower the concentration of polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants have been successful, according to a recent article in Chemical and Engineering News.

Used in furniture, electronics and other common items, PBDEs have been effective in fire prevention, but at the cost of their environmental impact. Quick to volatilize and be released into the environment, PBDEs also are slow to break down once they have entered the environment.

PBDEs have been of concern in the industrial discharge entering San Francisco Bay and elsewhere because they are believed to be capable of causing neurological damage and hormone signaling disruption in people and wildlife. As a result, the government banned the manufacture and import of one class of the chemicals in 2005.

In the nine years since the PBDE phaseout began, the success of the program has been dramatic: a 50 percent decrease in concentration in sport fish and a 74-93 percent decrease in the concentration in birds.

The reductions in concentration have been attributed to the adhering of industry to government regulatory goals and the ability of the environment to eventually break down the chemicals through microbial metabolism and natural dispersion across the affected areas.

Top image: Levels of certain flame retardants are declining in wildlife and sediment in California. (Credit: Robert Campbell / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

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