Following the lead of a handful of states, Walmart has decided to ban the use of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a flame retardant found in hundreds of products ranging from furniture to textiles to electronics.
The company says it will begin testing all products on June 1 for presence of PBDEs. It had already issued a ban on the chemicals for use in some products several years ago and is now sending out reminders to all its suppliers.
According to the Washington Post, PBDEs have been linked to problems with the liver, thyroid and reproductive systems and brain development in laboratory animals.
Additionally, the chemicals are easily leached out of household products and federal studies have shown that nearly all Americans carry some level of PBDEs in their bodies. A 2010 study claims that children born with higher concentrations of PBDEs scored lower on tests of mental and physical development between the ages of 1 and 6.
Some PBDEs are already banned in a few states, including California, Maine and Washington. They were recently listed by the EPA as “chemicals of concern,” though bureaucratic red tape could drag out any federal ban on PBDEs indefinitely.
U.S. makers of PBDEs have either stopped producing them in recent years or agreed to phase them out by next year. However, this is only a drop in the bucket considering the sheer number of products imported from other countries.
Says a labcoat type from the EPA” Wal-Mart has taken an important step toward protecting children and families from exposure to toxic chemicals… EPA has long had concerns about PBDEs.”
Similarly, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund says that Walmart’s decision will ultimately lead to fewer PBDEs being seen at all retailers:
This will have both direct and indirect ripple effects… The companies producing for Wal-Mart are not going to make a special line for them and another line with those chemicals for everyone else. And this is going to make it easier for other retailers to follow suit.