In 2003, Assembly Bill 302 was signed by Governor Gray Davis. The bill prohibited the manufacturing, processing, or distribution of a product in California that contained more than one-tenth of one percent of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or pentaBDE (PBDE) beginning January 1, 2008. The legislation was created in response to a 2002 study conducted by California State scientists that found the level of PBDEs in Bay Area women’s breast milk was extremely high.
PBDEs were used as fire retardants primarily in electronic equipment, textiles, and furniture. According to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), PBDE health concerns include the potential to disrupt hormonal functions and neurodevelopment, which may affect children’s learning abilities and behavior.
In addition to the ban, in 2014, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 1019, which gave consumers the right to know whether furniture they’re buying contains harmful chemicals. Consumers can check furniture labels for this information; see the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation’s (BEARHFTI’s) website for more information on the bill and label requirements.
The good news? The ban was effective. A follow-up study done earlier this year by DTSC found that there has been a 40 percent drop in PBDE levels in the breast milk of Bay Area women.
However, there is some bad news as well. A 2014 study from the Environmental Working Group and Duke University found that the fire retardant chemicals used in place of the banned PBDEs—some of which are carcinogenic—are building up in the bodies of mothers and their children. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission is considering a petition from scientists and advocates asking to ban these chemicals.