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Great Lakes contain flame retardants


An international commission says that the governments of Canada and the US can do more to keep toxic flame retardants out of the Great Lakes.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers have been found in significant levels in all of the Great Lakes. Lake Erie has the highest levels, with Lake Ontario coming in second, according to the International Joint Commission, a US-Canada organization that keeps tabs on water bodies shared between the two countries.

The chemicals are linked to various health problems in humans and wildlife. New York prohibits the sale of certain products with specific toxic flame retardants.

The IJC is drafting recommendations to help reduce the concentration of polybrominated diphenyl ethers in the Great Lakes. The commission's proposals will be forwarded to the governments of the US and Canada to encourage consideration of new laws.

Producer responsibility programs could be one of the best approaches, the commission says. The governments of Canada and the US would require manufacturers to create or fund programs that take back anything the manufacturers make containing PBDE's. The companies would then have to make sure that those items are properly disposed of or recycled.

The producer responsibility approach has worked well in Europe to address flame retardants and electronics, says Chuck Ruffing, director of the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute, which is housed on the Rochester Institute of Technology campus. And New York has producer responsibility programs for recyclable batteries and consumer electronics.

"I think they've got some record of making an improvement," Ruffing says. "It depends on how they're structured, obviously. But the framework in general, I think, is one that can contribute to diminishing the further input of these things into the lakes."