Obscure Canadian National Committee to decide on needless toxics in our living rooms

Apr 25 2012

Toronto - Here we go again. An obscure Canadian committee will vote tomorrow on standards that could have a profound impact on the use of toxic chemicals in televisions. “Canadian Technical Committee 108” is nestled deep within the Canadian Standards Association, largely shielded from public input.

“This is the third attempt since 2008 by the bromine industry to secure markets for its toxic chemicals by trying to influence standards for whether a candle can set your television on fire. It is a toxic solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” noted Kathleen Cooper, Senior Researcher with the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA).

In 2008, again in 2010, and once again, chemical industry lobbyists have managed to get this matter before national standards committees in countries around the world. If the standards pass, all TVs in the world would have to meet it and manufacturers would likely do so by using brominated flame retardants or other highly toxic halogenated compounds.

CELA has asked the committee to vote “NO” to these “candle-resistant flammability standards” for plastic TV casings. To remove future opportunities for the bromine industry to try and drum up business for itself, CELA has also asked the committee to recommend that such unnecessary requirements be removed from these standards permanently.

As was the case in 2008, there is no valid fire safety reason for the proposed candle-resistant requirement. Current flat panel and plasma screen TVs have much lower voltages and power levels than older models. They are much less likely to catch fire from internal ignition and no published data indicate that an external fire risk exists for either newer technologies or older televisions.

While these standards offer no proven fire safety benefit, they have the potential to add to serious risks to human health and the environment.

“We already know a lot about the dangers of brominated flame retardant chemicals such as PBDEs. We are exposed in house dust and food and Health Canada’s biomonitoring data confirm that we all carry these toxic substances in our bodies. Human studies show associations between increased levels of flame retardants in our bodies and reduced IQ in children, reduced fertility, endocrine and thyroid disruption, changes in male hormone levels, adverse birth outcomes, and impaired development. Flame retardants contaminate the environment on a global scale and persist up the food chain. As is so often the case, developing fetuses and children are the most exposed and the most vulnerable. For these reasons, we are banning PBDEs worldwide and continue to evaluate the newer but similar chemicals for their toxic effects.” Cooper noted.

Brominated or halogen-based flame retardants also make fires more dangerous. When products containing these chemicals burn, the toxic gases created are the major cause of fire deaths, rather than flames. The products themselves are also much harder to recycle and put toxic chemicals into the e-waste stream.

“CELA objects to the secrecy of such standards review processes. We have no way of knowing whether a technical committee reviewing fire safety issues has either the expertise or the inclination to consider broader issues of public interest, including important issues of human health risk and environmental contamination,” Cooper noted.

The Canadian committee voted against similar proposals in 2008 and 2010 and CELA has asked them to do so again. Whether most Canadians will ever know the outcome of such secret processes is uncertain. However, if the committee votes yes, the decision will add to the burden of toxic substances in everyone’s home, in their house dust, their food, and their body burden of chemicals.

For more detailed information, see:

CELA’s letter to the Canadian National IEC Committee,
Supplementary letter concerning candle standards and views of firefighters,
and The Case Against Candle-Resistant TVs (from the Green Science Policy Institute)

For more information, please contact:
Kathleen Cooper, Senior Researcher 705-341-2488 (cell)