Wal-Mart banning PDBEs, igniting flame retardant fears

Related articles

Before the EPA could say precautionary principle, Wal-Mart sent word to its suppliers last week that starting June 1st it would test for and not sell consumer products containing the flame retardants polybrominated diphenyl ether (PDBE). Wal-Mart said that it made this decision following the example of some state regulatory agencies. These agencies have responded to data correlating the substances with health problems in lab animals.

PDBEs have been used in hundreds of consumer products — including electronics, furniture and many others — since 1976 to slow down the spread of fire. Wal-Mart wants its suppliers to offer products that make use of alternative flame retardants or substitutes, such as Kevlar.

ACSH’s Jody Manley says this decision is hugely disappointing. “They’ve been at this for a while, trying to keep up with the Green movement. Sam Walton is probably turning over in his grave.”

As was shown in ACSH’s publication on flame retardants, these substances have never been shown to cause adverse health effects in humans. Indeed, the opposite is true: “The consequences of banning flame retardants are most serious, and such a ban flies in the face of the fact that Fireman’s Associations have credited these substances with saving thousands of lives by slowing the spread of fires,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “If we are going to ban any consumer product that has a chemical in it that has caused harm in high dose animal experiments, we would have to ban many of our favorite ‘natural’ foods, as well. Merely because these substances can be detected in our bodies does not mean they are harmful, and banning them doesn’t make scientific sense.”

Even if newer alternatives were used instead, “How do we know that those don’t pose other health risks?” asks ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “PDBEs have been used safely for decades.”