Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Chemical ban stays stalled in Senate

By YANG ZHANG
Capital News ServiceLANSING – Sara Talpos, an Ann Arbor mother who breastfed her children, is concerned about the presence of toxic chemicals in the breast milk of American mothers.

Talpos and several Michigan environmental groups say the Senate has unjustifiably delayed a bill to ban a chemical linked to brain damage among breast-fed children.

New research shows increasing concentrations of flame retardants in women’s breast milk in the Great Lakes basin.

One of those chemicals, deca-BDE, would be outlawed under the stalled measure. It’s used in consumer products such as electronics, furniture and baby’s toys.

Studies show the chemical can harm human health and is finding its way into soil, water and wildlife in Michigan.

“Children are particularly vulnerable,” said Tracey Easthope, the environmental health director of the Michigan Ecology Center and Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health in Ann Arbor.

Flame retardants can damage children’s brain system and retard their learning and memory abilities, Easthope said.

Talpos, an activist on the issue, nursed both of her children. She became aware of the problem of such chemicals after she had her first baby four years ago.

The state banned two other flame retardants in 2004.

Rep. Deb Kennedy, D-Brownstown, introduced the bill to phase out the manufacture, sale and distribution of deca-BDE in Michigan by the end of 2013. The bill passed the House by a 94-6 vote last January.

“It would be a true victory for children and the environment if we could get it through this year,” Kennedy said.

But the bill is stalled in the Senate and it is not likely to pass in 2010.

Matt Marsden, press secretary for Sen. Majority Leader Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said the bill isn’t among the Senate’s top priorities.

“I don’t expect they would be taking this bill up at all until the budget is out,” Marsden said.

Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Network, said he doesn’t understand why senators are not willing to take a stand on the bill.

Schettler testified about the adverse effects of deca-BDE before the House’s Great Lakes and Environment Committee last December.

He said the chemical has been found in fish and sediments in the Great Lakes region, and levels have increased dramatically in the past three decades.

“It gets into people, pregnant women and babies,” Schettler said. “The Senate apparently doesn’t agree with that.”

The Ann Arbor-based environmental organization claims that the Senate is “under pressure from special interests to kill the bill.”

Some out-of-the-state deca-BDE producers “may have hired lobbyists in Lansing to put pressure on the Senate”, said Rebecca Meuninck, the organization’s environmental health campaign director.

In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency started a deca-BDE phase-out initiative last year. The two U.S. producers of the chemical, Albemarle Corp. in Louisiana and Chemtura Corp. in Connecticut, and the largest U.S. importer, ICL Industrial Products, Inc. in Israel, committed to end all uses of deca-BDE by the end of 2013.

Kennedy said, “Michigan is trying to be a leader in phasing it out earlier.”

Talpos said she will now think twice before letting her children eat Great Lakes fish.

She said there’s no excuse not to pass the bill.

“As a parent I would like to think that I have the right to decide what goes into my children’s body,” she said. “I feel like that right hasn’t given to me right now.”

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