Environmental group Friends of the Earth is demanding the British government ban the use of brominated flame-retardant chemicals contained in plastic casings for televisions, telephones and computers.
The group points to study findings presented at last month's Dioxin '98 conference in Sweden. These suggest that when such goods are disposed of, BFRs persist in the environment, and may be linked to breast-milk contamination and brain damage.
British Environment Minister Michael Meacher said a ban is unjustified until more evidence of the effects of BFRs is available.
Meacher said the government is awaiting the results of a European Union risk-assessment study being carried out in France and Britain. When that study is completed early next year, a decision will be made on whether BFRs should be phased out or if more research is required, he said.
Friends of the Earth said the Swedish research presented in Stockholm showed that mice, exposed as a fetus to one flame retardant, polybrominated diphenylether, demonstrated ``permanent disturbances in behavior, memory and learning.''
Other studies presented by food researchers showed human breast milk is contaminated by PBDE and said that levels in the milk of Swedish women have increased to more than 50 times what they were 25 years ago.
Friends of the Earth, referring to the conference research, said: ``BFRs are persistent and bioaccumulative — they don't break down well in the environment, and they accumulate in animals and humans, particularly in their fat.
``FoE is calling for the government to protect public health by phasing out BFRs and any other chemicals which persist in our bodies or in the environment.''
FoE toxics campaigner Michael Warhurst pointed out that a draft EU measure, the Directive on Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment, already has called for the chemicals to be banned, ``but the manufacturers of BFRs are fighting restrictions on the chemicals.''
Meacher said materials using flame-retardant additives help save lives in fires across Britain every year.