Seattle Post-Intelligencer  [Printer-friendly version]
February 24, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Want to see a neat trick? In this op-ed,
Patrick Moore argues that precaution 'dictates' that we continue to
use a dangerous flame-retardant (deca-BDE) instead of searching for
a less-harmful alternative. George Orwell would feel vindicated by
Mr. Moore's inventive double-speak. Oh, and be sure to check out the
web site maintained by activists who keep tabs on Mr. Moore's work.]

By Patrick Moore

[Rachel's introduction: This is crude piece of propaganda. It claims
that the flame retardant, deca-BDE ('deca' for short) is "non-toxic."
But the American Chemical Society reported in 2003 that deca is both
toxic and persistent -- a bad combination. We now know that deca
builds up in the environment and can get into humans. It is found
in breast milk at increasing concentrations. It is found in high
concentrations in household dust. It has been banned in Germany
because, when burned, it produces dioxins. These are just a few of the
reasons why regulators consider it a bad actor. Although Mr. Moore
would have you believe that environmental activists are the only ones
who want deca banned, in fact scientists for both the Washington State
Department of Ecology AND the state Department of Health have urged
legislators to ban deca. Patrick, oh Patrick, are you surprised that
your colleagues in the Northwest call you a prevaricator?]

Every year, flame retardants save hundreds of lives in the United
States, and thousands more across the globe.

Not only do flame retardants reduce the spread of fire, they reduce
the threat of ignition in the first place, and give people more time
to escape injury. They are particularly important in providing added
fire safety in schools, airplanes, automobiles and retirement homes.
One of the most common flame retardants is decabromodiphenyl ether
(Deca-BDE), which is used in flammable consumer products such as
televisions, upholstered furniture and carpets.

Despite Deca-BDE's undeniable history of saving lives, the Toxic Free
Legacy Coalition -- whose activist membership includes the
Washington Toxics Coalition -- is asking the Legislature to ban this
chemical in Washington state.

The Washington Toxics Coalition's apparent mission is to "protect
public health and the environment by eliminating toxic pollution." Yet
Deca-BDE -- the most common and rigorously-tested variety -- is non-
toxic in its application. No country in the world has banned Deca-BDE,
and there is no alternative with such a proven track record of safety
and performance.

Extensive studies in both Europe and the United States show Deca-BDE
is safe. Following a 10-year risk assessment -- which evaluated more
than 500 studies -- the European Union concluded Deca-BDE does not
pose health or environmental risks.

The active element in the most effective flame retardants, bromine, is
found widely in nature and is primarily harvested from seawater, salt
lakes and underground brine deposits. Bromine compounds are also used
in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, including sedatives and
antihistamines. Pharmaceuticals with bromine compounds are being
tested in the fight against Alzheimer's, cancer and AIDS. Bromine
compounds are also used in photography.

In the case of flame retardants, bromine compounds are added or
blended into materials in solid form -- not gas form -- so the
opportunity for human exposure is extremely small. As a result, where
Deca-BDE levels are detected in our environment, they are measured at
extremely low levels -- parts-per-billion, or parts-per-trillion.

Motivated by dollars rather than science, the campaign to ban flame
retardants -- particularly Deca-BDE -- would do more harm than good.
Since 2000, members of the Toxic Free Legacy Coalition have received
more than $5 million from wealthy U.S. foundations. Those funds are
being misdirected in the backing of efforts to ban Deca-BDE. The House
of Representatives already has rejected such an effort, favoring
continued study instead, and the Senate should consider the same.

As a sensible environmentalist, I believe banning flame retardants
would put the most vulnerable at risk needlessly -- young children and
the elderly -- when there is simply no evidence of human harm.
Precaution dictates we err on the side of proven fire safety.

Dr. Patrick Moore is a co-founder of Greenpeace and is chairman and
chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. in Vancouver, B.C.

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