Human exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants has increased exponentially over the last three decades and recent studies have linked this exposure with reduced human fertility.

In a letter to the governments of Canada and the United States released today, the International Joint Commission (IJC) has made five recommendations urging comprehensive and integrated actions to keep PBDEs and other flame retardants from entering the waters of the Great Lakes.

The comprehensive approach recommended by the IJC includes education for consumers on PBDE-containing products in their homes, access to information through product labelling and barcode scanning, and research to understand the implications of different recycling and disposal methods for products containing flame retardants. 

The IJC also recommends that responsible governments and industry work jointly with a full range of stakeholders to develop an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program for flame retardant-containing products. This would explore mechanisms for addressing new products made with alternative flame retardants as well as products containing PBDEs. This initiative could become a model for EPR programs for other toxics-containing products.

The IJC’s letter, Further advice and recommendations on addressing PBDEs and other flame retardants in the Great Lakes, is based on the work of the Great Lakes Water Quality Board, the IJC’s principal advisor under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. It provides advice to improve the effectiveness of work to make the Great Lakes free from harmful pollutants under the Chemicals of Mutual Concern annex to the Agreement. 

The recommendations are directed toward all responsible governments in the Great Lakes basin (federal, provincial, state, Tribes, First Nations, Métis, and municipalities) and are intended to be incorporated in the draft Binational Strategy for Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) Risk Management. 

Further discussion and information supporting the IJC’s recommendations can be found in the Water Quality Board’s September 2017 report, Addressing Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers in the Great Lakes Basin: Searching for Solutions to Key Challenges

In 2006, 2010, and 2012, the federal government conducted assessments on PBDEs under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, on the basis of their potential persistence and/or bioaccumulation in the environment, and inherent toxicity to organisms. The studies concluded that PBDEs are entering the environment at levels that constitute a danger to the environment.


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