Washington has become the first state to pass legislation that could lead to a near-phaseout of the fireproofing chemical known as decabromodiphenyl ether, and Maine could follow suit.
The measure calls for ending the use of deca-BDE in the housings of electronics devices such as televisions and computer enclosures after Jan. 1, 2011, provided a safer alternative has been found.
There is also a ban on the use of deca-BDE in mattresses after Jan. 1, 2008, but the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum - which represents companies that manufacture deca-BDE - said the material is no longer used in mattresses.
Bans against two other forms of polybrominated flame retardants - penta-BDE and octa-BDE - will have little practical impact as manufacturers voluntarily stopped using them in the United States in 2004.
In Washington, under the legislation approved April 17, the Department of Ecology, the Department of Health and a newly created fire safety committee must determine whether any alternate flame retardant proposed as a replacement for deca-BDE is ``safer and technically feasible.''
The use of deca would not be prohibited unless and until an alternative is approved by the three groups.
The bill exempts a number of products from the planned phaseout, including medical devices and federal government-required safety systems for aircraft.
The Maine proposal, 1648, is similar to the Washington law except its bans would go into effect one year earlier. It is scheduled for a hearing and vote April 24 in the state legislature's joint Natural Resources Committee.
``It will probably have enough support in the committee, but it won't be unanimous,'' said Travis Kennedy, communications director for the House Majority Office in Maine. In explaining why there are exemptions for a number of products, Kennedy said the vast majority of deca use - almost 80 percent - is in televisions and other household electronic devices. ``The bill is trying to eliminate the use of deca in materials and products that are regularly exposed to children.''
``We remain concerned that the review process is somewhat vague and ill-defined'' in the state of Washington, said Dr. Michael Spiegelstein, chairman of Washington-based BSEF. He said in a statement that the European Union, after a 10-year study, has exempted deca from further regulation.
The ``real risk'' is that ``any substance used as an alternative to deca will carry its own risks and we may not even be aware of just what those risks are,'' Spiegelstein said.
He added that because of the many exemptions and loopholes, the legislation would address only ``a small portion'' of deca use in the state.
However, Richard Wiles, executive director of the Environmental Working Group in Washington, suggested the bill's passage ``could boost similar efforts in states across the country and set the stage for a national ban.''