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DecaBDE Study: A Review of Available Scientific Research

Executive Summary

This report has been prepared to address the five issues posed by the Illinois Legislature to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in HB2572 regarding the use of Decabromodiphenyl ether (DecaBDE). The Agency reviewed numerous data sources, including some very recent information, pertaining to the five issues in order to respond in as thorough a manner as possible. However, data gaps exist in certain key areas that have hampered our ability to fully address some issues. The five issues and our findings follow.

The first issue asks whether DecaBDE is bio-accumulating in the environment, and if so, whether the levels of DecaBDE are increasing, decreasing, or staying the same. We find that DecaBDE is bioaccumulating in the environment, and levels are increasing in some types of samples (sediments, some top predators, and possibly human blood and breast milk).

The second issue asks how humans are exposed to DecaBDE. We find that humans are exposed to decaBDE from many sources including the diet, workplace, and home, with diet the primary source for adults and breast milk and house dust important sources for infants and small children.

The third issue asks what health effects could result from exposure to DecaBDE, and are current levels of exposure at levels that could produce these effects. We find that the most important health effects from exposure to decaBDE and/or lower-brominated congeners appear to be liver, thyroid, reproductive/developmental, and neurological effects, although the relevance of some of the effects reported in animal studies for human health risks has been questioned, and significant data gaps in the decaBDE toxicity database have been identified; estimates of current human exposures to the PBDEs indicate that effects on the liver should not be occurring, but two recent studies suggest that exposures could be occurring that are in the range of doses causing adverse effects in laboratory animals.

The fourth issue asks whether DecaBDE breaks down into more harmful chemicals that could damage public health. We find that DecaBDE can be broken down by ultraviolet light and direct sunlight, and also by metabolic processes in animals and microorganisms, but uncertainty and controversy exists about the extent of breakdown by light under environmentally relevant conditions and the human health implications of the breakdown products; therefore, we believe that the information available at this time regarding DecaBDE’s breakdown products is not sufficient to allow us to confidently address this issue.

The fifth issue asks whether effective flame retardants are available for DecaBDE uses, and whether the use of available alternatives reduces health risks while still maintaining an adequate level of flame retardant performance. We find that effective, though more costly, alternatives exist for most of the plastics and textiles/fabrics uses of DecaBDE, and these alternatives will likely reduce risks while maintaining an adequate level of flame retardant performance; however, significant toxicity data gaps exist for many of the main potential alternatives, and further research is needed to better evaluate the health and environmental consequences of these alternatives.

We also reviewed the actions of other jurisdictions regarding the polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). USEPA’s Voluntary Children’s Chemical Evaluation Program has determined that a significant data gap exists regarding the environmental transport and fate of decaBDE, and DecaBDE manufacturers will soon begin studies to fill these gaps. The European Union (EU) has included the PBDEs on a list of chemicals to be phased out of use in electrical and electronic equipment, but DecaBDE manufacturers have successfully petitioned for an exemption for DecaBDE from this ban. This exemption may be challenged in the European Court of Justice. The EU will also conduct studies of the reproductive/developmental and neurological effects of decaBDE to fill important gaps in the toxicity database. Several states have recently legislated bans on the use of the Penta- and OctaBDE flame retardant formulations in products, and Maine will ban DecaBDE in 2008 if effective alternatives to DecaBDE are identified. Some states have also required studies of DecaBDE to help decide what actions, if any, are appropriate for DecaBDE.

The research noted above on the potential for reproductive/developmental and neurological effects of decaBDE and the studies on the environmental transport and fate of decaBDE, plus other on-going or planned studies, should provide valuable information to assist in evaluating the issues raised in HB2572.

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