IJC recommends comprehensive actions to keep toxic flame retardants out of Great Lakes


In a letter report to the governments of Canada and the United States, released today, the International Joint Commission (IJC) makes five recommendations urging comprehensive and integrated actions to keep PBDEs and other flame retardants from entering the waters of the Great Lakes. 

The recommendations are directed toward all responsible governments in the Great Lakes basin (federal, provincial, state, Tribes, First Nations, Métis and municipalities). The IJC expects that these recommendations will be useful to the two federal governments as they finalize their draft Binational Strategy for Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) Risk Management. 

The IJC recommends that responsible governments ensure that product flammability standards, toxicity standards for flame retardants, and use of redesign options are approached in an integrated way. Currently these considerations are addressed by separate programs that differ across jurisdictions. 

The comprehensive approach recommended by the IJC includes education for consumers on PBDE-containing products in their homes, access to information through product labeling and barcode scanning, and research to understand the implications of different recycling and disposal methods for products containing flame retardants. 

The IJC also recommends that responsible governments and industry work jointly with a full range of stakeholders to develop an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) program for flame retardant-containing products. This would explore mechanisms for addressing new products made with alternative flame retardants as well as products containing PBDEs. This initiative could become a model for EPR programs for other toxics-containing products. 

The IJC’s letter report to the governments, Further advice and recommendations on addressing PBDEs and other flame retardants in the Great Lakes, is based on the work of the Great Lakes Water Quality Board, the IJC’s principal advisor under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. It provides advice to improve the effectiveness of work to make the Great Lakes free from harmful pollutants under the Chemicals of Mutual Concern annex to the Agreement. 

Further discussion and information supporting the IJC’s recommendations can be found in the Water Quality Board’s September 2017 report, Addressing Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers in the Great Lakes Basin: Searching for Solutions to Key Challenges. Further background is provided in an accompanying question and answer sheet

The IJC was established by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to help Canada and the United States prevent and resolve disputes over the use of the waters they share. The federal governments also directed the IJC to assess progress and provide advice under 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.


Sally Cole-Misch



Sarah Lobrichon



Frank Bevacqua