Ban on flame-retardant chemical one of new Washington state laws

Washington state is banning the sale of televisions, computers or residential upholstered furniture containing a toxic chemical flame-retardant starting Jan. The new law is one of a handful to take effect New Year’s Day. Another law prohibits the use of lead wheel weights used to balance tires. State officials say about 40 metric tons of lead wheel weights fall off of vehicles every year in Washington. Lead fragments and dust from the weights contaminate soil and water, and pose hazards to aquatic life, they said.Washington state was the first in the nation to phase out the use of decaBDE, the flame retardant, which has been found in people and wildlife.

“It’s really exciting to see this very forward-thinking policy go into effect that will protect all of Washington residents,” said Erika Schreder, staff scientist with the Washington Toxics Coalition.She noted that the only two U.S. makers of deca and the largest importer of deca voluntarily agreed in late 2009 to stop producing and importing deca for most uses by 2012.”Action here at the state level can have national implications and change the whole way the industry does business,” Schreder said.Deca, one of three main types of PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, is largely used in the black plastic casings of TVs. The makers of the other two forms – penta and octa – voluntarily agreed to stop making them by the end of 2004.

Washington’s law required state officials to identify safer alternatives that would meet fire safety standards before the ban on deca could take effect Jan. 1, 2011. A state fire safety committee approved those alternatives in November 2008, triggering the ban Saturday.

Also taking effect Saturday is a law that stiffens fines for those who don’t give enough room to police, emergency workers and tow trucks that are pulled over on the side of the road with emergency lights activated.

The new law builds on a 2007 law that created a 200-foot buffer around emergency vehicles that are stopped with lights on. Under that law, drivers must change lanes if it’s safe to do so, or slow down if they are unable to change lanes or move over. Now, that area is designated as an “emergency zone” under the new law taking effect Saturday.

The new law doubles the fine for drivers who don’t move over or slow down. The ticket increases from a base of $124 to $248, with additional speeding charges. Drivers can also be charged with endangering an emergency worker and could face possible jail time and a suspended license.

Dan Coon, a Washington State Patrol spokesman, said there has been a significant increase in the number of collisions since the 2007 law took effect. He said the number of collisions where troopers were struck increased from 18 in 2007 to 30 in 2008, and there have been more than 20 accidents a year since then with troopers alone, not counting other emergency or tow vehicles.

In September, a tow truck driver working on a disabled vehicle on the side of Interstate 5 was killed when an SUV crashed into him.

Other laws taking effect Saturday:

– A new law expands the category of drivers arrested for drunken driving who can apply for a special license to drive with an ignition-interlock device. The device tests for alcohol in their breath before the car will start. Under a 2008 law, only drivers arrested for drunken driving could apply for the device. Now those who have been convicted of vehicular homicide or vehicular assault due to DUI can also apply. Under the underlying law, a person with an interlock license would have the device on their car for either one, 5 or 10 years depending on their record. The new law also requires that a driver with a device have no failed blows on starting their car for four consecutive months before the device can be removed.

– A measure that requires a judge to personally set bail for people arrested on felony charges. It was one of several bills sparked by the fatal shootings of four Lakewood police officers in November 2009. Currently, several counties have a system, called “booking bail,” where a formula is used to set bail amounts if arrests are made on the weekends or a holiday. However, the law expires Aug. 1, and a bail practices workgroup that was created by the Legislature has recommended in a report to the Legislature that the law be allowed to lapse.


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