Protecting Lake Michigan
Written by Illinois PIRG   
Sunday, 20 March 2005 02:09
For generations the people of Illinois have swum in Lake Michigan's waters, fished along its shores and sailed out of its marinas. But Lake Michigan is more than just a site of recreation to us. It provides us with fresh drinking water for our homes, water for our crops, critical habitat for hundreds of plant and animal species and is a key part of our state's economy.

Unfortunately, Lake Michigan faces a barrage of threats including pollution from chemicals like toxic flame retardants. These toxic chemicals, also known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) added to computers, furniture, clothing and other products to make them less flammable. They are turning up in women's breast milk, the dust in our homes, and have been discovered recently in the fish and sediment in Lake Michigan. More and more studies are linking these chemicals to serious health concerns. Since safer alternatives are available in the market, Illinois should follow the lead of other states that have already prohibited the use of toxic flame retardants.

Right now we have the opportunity to pass legislation prohibiting the use of PBDEs in Illinois. We must insist that companies making or selling products in Illinois no longer contribute to the already alarming levels of these chemicals in our bodies, our homes, and Lake Michigan.

How You Can Help
Please ask your state legislators to actively support legislation designed to ban the use of toxic flame retardants.

Brief Summary
"[PBDEs are] small but they're still important. They tend to concentrate at higher levels in the food chain in the fish, and then we eat the fish."
--Bill Sonzogni, Professor, University of Wisconsin

Toxic Chemicals

One of the most alarming threats to Lake Michigan comes from toxic contaminants. Recent testing found rising levels of a little-known but dangerous class of chemicals used in consumer products to make them less flammable. Over time these chemicals, known as PBDEs, come off products and accumulate in our environment, our homes and even in our bodies.

In 2004, University of Wisconsin researchers found PBDEs were on the rise in Lake Michigan sediment. They had also previously determined that PBDEs were concentrating in lake salmon.

A Threat to Our Health

Unfortunately, PBDEs are found at alarming levels in U.S. women's breast milk, posing serious health effects to our children by potentially affecting the way they learn, behave and properly develop.

A 2003 University of Texas study measured American women's breast milk for PBDEs. Researchers found levels 10-100 times higher than those sampled in European women. In the same year, a University of Indiana researcher indicated that concentrations of PBDEs in Americans have been increasing exponentially since the 1970s-doubling every 4 to 5 years.

Prohibiting Toxic PBDEs

Right now, Illinois PIRG is working to eliminate these toxic flame retardants from our state. Many companies including Dell, Apple and IKEA are already using safer alternatives while still meeting fire safety standards.

We must insist that companies making or selling products in Illinois no longer contribute to the already alarming levels of these chemicals in Lake Michigan. Illinois PIRG is calling on legislators to take heed of the growing evidence of the hazards of toxic flame retardants and prohibit their production, processing and use in Illinois.

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