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California becomes first state to ban flame-retardant chemicals

Aug 9, 2003 | Associated Press

California is becoming the first state in the nation to ban two forms of flame-retardant chemicals known to accumulate in the blood of mothers and nursing babies.

The legislation was headed for signing by Gov. Gray Davis, but the ban doesn't take effect until January 1, 2008. Manufacturers have said they need the time to find alternatives to the chemicals, commonly used to coat furniture, electronics, plastic and foam products.

Studies show North American women have the highest levels of the chemicals, known as PBDEs, in the world, nearing levels shown to damage memory, behavior and learning in laboratory mice.

California researchers found Bay Area women have three to 10 times greater amounts of the chemical in their breast tissue than either European or Japanese women. Indiana University researchers study found levels in Indiana and California women and infants 20 times higher than in Sweden and Norway.

The chemicals remain in the environment for years and build up in the body over a lifetime, similar to PCBs and DDT, which was banned decades ago in the United States.

Federal Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Mark Merchant said the agency is concerned about PBDEs and is gathering information and working with the industry on alternatives.

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