Global action urged on bromine chemicals

Sweden calls on USA, Japan, to join the debate on persistent, bioaccumulative chemicals

Swedish environment minister Anna Lindh has called on the Japanese and American governments to discuss with European countries the environmental challenges posed by persistent, bioaccumulative chemicals such as brominated fire retardants.

In letters sent on Tuesday to Kenji Manabe of the Japanese Environment Agency and Carol Browner of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Ms Lindh expressed "deep concern" about the problem and called for "deeper cooperation".

Sweden's move follows the publication of research concluding that the brominated fire retardant PBDE (polybrominated diphenylether) caused brain damage in laboratory mice (ENDS Daily 13 August). Other studies showing accumulation of brominated fire retardants in humans and animals were presented at a conference held in Stockholm last month (ENDS Daily 17 August).

Based on these findings, Ms Lindh told Mr Manabe and Ms Browner, "the use of [brominated fire retardants] may well lead to the same disastrous consequences as did the use of the now banned PCBs".

Though the minister focused on brominated fire retardants, her main political aim appears to be to get international support for a more general shift in approach to chemicals risk assessment and regulation. Under a policy put forward in May, Sweden has proposed regulating groups of chemicals that are persistent and bioaccumulative, even if toxicity has not been proved (ENDS Daily 15 May).

The concept has support from some of Sweden's EU neighbours, and European discussions are now underway on whether to supplement case-by-case analysis with grouping and to put less emphasis on requiring evidence of toxicity where chemicals are persistent and bioaccumulative (ENDS Daily 27 April).

However, the possibility of implementing this new approach "depends on other countries too," a Swedish environment ministry official stressed. "It is very much a global problem," she added.

The official also confirmed that first drafts have just been completed of risk assessments for five brominated flame retardants being examined under the EU's programme for existing chemicals.

Follow Up:
Swedish environment ministry, tel: +46 8 405 1000.

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