Flame Retardant Ban Advocates Admit New Ban Repeats Errors of Last Ban
Last week the House Environment Committee in Olympia considered HB 1294 which would ban a certain type of flame-retardant compound and create a process for identifying alternatives. Supporters of the legislation argue this will get us off the "toxic treadmill" of moving from one risky compound to the next.
As we noted last week, however, there are some key questions supporters need to answer if they truly want to avoid actually making the situation worse. The advocates of the bill admit that banning the previous compound known as PBDE led to the current compound, known as TRIS, and that TRIS is more risky than PBDEs.
During the hearing, legislators asked two of the questions we raised.
What Will Replace Tris?
Both the Washington Toxics Coalition and the Department of Ecology claimed in testimony that safer alternatives exist. Representative Overstreet asked if Ecology had actually developed a list of those alternatives. The representative from the Department of Ecology admitted that no such list existed and that the Environmental Protection Agency might have something but she was not sure the status of that list. In other words, if Tris is banned, nobody knows what would replace it and whether it would be safer or more toxic.
How will the state assess alternatives?
During the testimony there was a fair amount of discussion of the GreenScreen process to judge the safety of alternative flame-retardant compounds. The representative of the Washington Toxics Coalition even claimed the Department of Ecology "used GreenScreen to determine safer alternatives" when PBDEs were banned. Given that the Toxics Coalition is now complaining about what replaced PBDEs, it is ironic that they are touting that experience as a model for the future. Yet, the legislation they offer proposes to use that same process after Tris is banned.
Additionally, as the representative of the Department of Ecology explained, the GreenScreen doesn't identify the level of risk from a flame-retardant compound. GreenScreen only indicates if certain chemicals are present. She indicated Ecology uses California's standard for determining if a chemical is of concern. The mere presence of a chemical, however, does not indicate whether there is risk.
For example, California lists Acrylamide as "known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity (such as birth defects and other reproductive harm)." California says "acrylamide forms during the baking, frying, or roasting of certain kinds of foods" including "roasted asparagus, canned sweet potatoes and pumpkin, canned black olives, roasted nuts, coffee, roasted grain-based coffee substitutes, prune juice, breakfast cereals, crackers, cookies, bread crusts, and toast..." Unless you are afraid of toast (they encourage people to "Toast bread to the lightest color acceptable"), simply saying something is on the California list doesn't provide much guidance.
As I've said before, I don't know how dangerous Tris truly is. What is becoming clear, however, is that without a list of safe alternatives or a process to create such a list, rather than ending the "toxic treadmill," HB 1294 simply enshrines it.