Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pollution Prevention Week: Chemical Action Plans

By Andrew Wineke, communications, Hazardous Waste & Toxics Reduction

Sept. 15-21 is Pollution Prevention Week, and we’re taking the week to explore some of the ways Ecology is working to keep our air clean, our waters pure, and our communities safe from toxic chemicals.

Today, we’re looking at Ecology’s chemical action plans.

When it comes to protecting the environment, you need to have a strategy so you can prioritize potential problems and focus your efforts to find solutions. One of the ways Ecology does this is through chemical action plans.

With so many toxic chemicals being used today, we need to understand how they’re being used and, once used, what happens when they’re thrown away -- because there really is no "away." We need to find safer alternatives and collect or capture problem chemicals before they get into the environment.

What is a chemical action plan?

A chemical action plan offers recommendations to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic. Those chemicals, known as PBTs, last a long time, and tend to build up in fish, animals and people. They’re the worst of the worst.

So far, Ecology has developed chemical action plans for four chemicals:
We are now taking public comment on a draft plan for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) (learn more in our Aug. 7 blog post).

Case study: PBDE plan leads to safer alternatives 

Upholstered products and stuffed toys are
often treated with flame retardants.
Let’s look at PBDEs. It’s an unfortunate irony that PBDEs were invented to make us safer by acting as flame retardants. These chemicals were added to a wide variety of household products over the last 30 years. While PBDEs are meant to slow a fire’s spread, they have also been shown to be escaping from products and accumulating in people and the environment. They pop up in breast milk, blood and fat, house dust and indoor air, fish, wildlife, birds, beef, and dairy products.

Animal studies have shown that exposure to PBDEs can impact brain development and alter hormone levels, while exposure in humans has been associated with developmental problems in children. And they potentially cause cancer.

Manufacturers voluntarily agreed to stop using two main varieties of PBDEs in 2004. In 2006, Ecology developed a Chemical Action Plan for PBDEs that looked at how to reduce the use of the third main variety, deca-BDE (learn more in our June 25 blog post). That led to a state law in 2007 that prohibited the use of deca-BDE in mattresses beginning in 2008; and in computers, televisions and residential furniture beginning in 2011.

It’s important to note that the PBDE Chemical Action Plan wasn’t simply a ban. The plan identified safer alternative chemicals to replace PBDEs, and exempted some uses, such as transportation.

Washington’s PBDE plan helped lead the way to a national agreement to eliminate deca-BDE in most products by 2012.

More information


Todd Myers said...

The blog says, "The plan identified safer alternative chemicals to replace PBDEs." Can you name those alternatives? The link only talks about the process.

Erika Holmes said...

Thanks for asking, Todd.

The original PBDE chemical action plan included a 2006 report that looked at the flame retardants RDP and BAPP as potential alternatives to deca-BDE. You can find that report at

In the 2007 PBDE law, the Legislature instructed Ecology and the Department of Health to “review risk assessments, scientific studies, and other relevant findings regarding alternatives to the use of commercial deca-bde in residential upholstered furniture, televisions, and computers.”

The outcome of that process was a 2008 report ( that identified RDP as a viable alternative for use in TVs and computers, and identified non-chemical alternatives for upholstered furniture. (The report also considered TPP and BAPP, but eliminated those alternatives due to concerns about the potential toxicity of those chemicals).

In 2008, those alternatives were reviewed by a fire safety committee appointed by the governor and found to meet applicable fire safety standards.

And, as one final resource, there’s also an EPA alternatives assessment report on PBDEs available at That report was originally finished in 2005, but has just been updated.

I hope that answers your question. Please let me know if I can provide more information.