Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Executive Orders on PBTs and Fluorescent Lights
January 28, 2004
Thank you all for coming this morning. I want to thank Sen. Karen Fraser, Rep. Mike Cooper and Rep. Kelli Linville for joining me here today. I also want to welcome Linda Hoffman, interim director of the state Department of Ecology and Rob Duff, acting director of the state Department of Health’s Office of Environmental Health Assessments.
More than five years ago, we were the first state in the nation to launch a strategy for tackling long-lasting toxic chemicals that build up in the food chain.
We have also done a very good job of reducing toxic discharges into the environment. But we recognize that there are some types of toxins that are slipping through the cracks. But we need to do more. And we need to do it faster. I am here today to sign two orders that will make that happen.
The executive order that I am signing today will direct several key actions. First, the executive order directs the Department of Ecology to immediately begin developing a chemical action plan to reduce our exposure to a toxic flame retardant known as PBDE. This chemical is contained in many plastic-based consumer products. These products include televisions, computers, carpets and upholstery. In other words, it’s all around us – all the time.
The toxins leach out of these products continually, building up in humans and animals. Some researchers are concerned that PBDEs may cause harm to the nervous system and affect thyroid hormone function. Recent studies in Europe and the United States have also found the chemical appearing in human breast milk with increasing frequency. This does not mean that breast feeding is unsafe or should be discontinued. But it gives us reason to act now to address this problem before it gets any worse.
California has adopted a new law that will forbid two types of these toxic flame-retardants by 2008. Maine is considering a similar ban. The EPA has entered into an agreement with the manufacturers 2 types of PBDEs. These manufacturers agree to stop production by the end of 2004. However, PBDE can continue to be used in products until supplies run out. So other forms of PBDEs and its effects would stay in the environment for years to come! Our own monitoring shows that this chemical is rapidly increasing in Washington’s environment. We need immediate, aggressive action to turn that trend around. That’s why I’m directing Ecology to develop a chemical action plan to reduce exposure to PBDEs, so that we can identify the sources of the chemical, determine the full extent of the chemical in our environment, and produce a plan for the reduction and ultimate elimination of PBDE in our state.
But government cannot tackle this problem of chemical contamination alone. The chemical action plan will also identify a strategy that will work with businesses to remove products that contain PBDE. And we already have examples of companies that have taken these steps - companies like Ikea, which has completely eliminated PBDEs from the furniture it sells.
The chemicals Ikea is substituting are safer. Other companies such as Intel, Apple, Phillips, Ericsson, Sony and Panasonic have also voluntarily decided to switch to alternatives. Ikea and these other businesses demonstrate that companies can do business – and stay in business – without harming our citizens. They are a shining example of corporate and community responsibility.
Today’s executive order also directs Ecology to begin rulemaking on their Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxins, or PBT, strategy. By putting this strategy into rule, we will be bringing transparency to the process of listing PBTs. Companies will know what chemicals are on the PBT list, and how they are listed. And the public will have the confidence that we will continue to move forward to address these toxic chemicals in our environment.
However, we do still have many chemicals in our environment and in our consumer products that can be harmful if they are not handled or disposed of properly. For example, mercury fever thermometers and fluorescent lights are safe consumer products – until they break. The liquid and vapor forms of mercury found in these products can cause long-term health problems.
Unfortunately, our traditional cleanup programs and regulatory approaches are not as effective at protecting people from these other sources of toxins. Instead, consumer education, improved recycling and disposal programs, and cooperative agreements with specific industries may be better tools. We have already made progress on mercury using these approaches, which were recommended in the mercury reduction action plan developed by the Departments of Ecology and Health in 2002.
The order directs the Department of Ecology to fully implement the mercury reduction action plan. I don’t want it just gathering dust on a shelf. I provided $159,000 in my supplemental budget proposal to keep the momentum going. I urge the legislature to support that proposal.
The second directive I am signing directs agencies to recycle fluorescent lamps. This will also support our efforts to keep mercury out of the environment.
So today I am directing the Department of General Administration to give preference to purchasing equipment, supplies, and other products that do not contain long-lasting, toxic chemicals. I am also directing all state agencies under my authority to reduce their use of products with these types of chemicals. And for those who missed it, my budget further supports our efforts to eliminate long-lasting toxins.
It provides money to create an environmental monitoring network and to help local governments establish recycling programs for fluorescent lights. These are not large budget items, but they will do a lot of good.