Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (or P.B.D.E.s for short) are toxic chemicals found in common products like electronics, textiles and, scientific evidence suggests, a widely available flame retardant. The flame retardant is malignant enough that the E.P.A. recently began implementing a voluntary phase-out of its most ubiquitous form that will most likely take several years. But that wasn’t soon enough for big box giant Wal-Mart, who decided to take matters into its own hands and ban the product from its shelves. According to an article in the New York Times, the retail Goliath is taking heat from chemical lobbyists about being proactive. But in light of a number of disturbing findings – one widely cited Swedish study found that the flame retardant was common in breast milk – we’re glad Wal-Mart is taking the “better safe than sorry” route.
The E.P.A.’s website states that common forms of the polybrominated diphenyl ethers found in the controversial flame retardant “are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic to both humans and the environment,” adding, “The critical endpoint of concern for human health is neurobehavioral effects.” Many reports show that the flame retardant appears to be infiltrating our food as well. The NYT’s Julie Scelfo noted in a recent article that a new scientific study in Texas found that 10 samples of butter from grocery stores all contained traces of the flame retardant – and one of them was “highly contaminated.”
In the meantime, chemical industry groups have been calling Wal-Mart out for trying to ride the green wave and appease environmental activists. While we have explored the retailer’s true intentions before, in this case where public health is at risk, we actually don’t care if Wal-Mart’s motives are altruistic or not.