Flame Retardant Debates Heat Up in the States
February 21, 2013
As state legislatures start their 2013 legislation session, a major focus is the use of toxic flame retardant chemicals in products we use in our homes. Over the last few years, these chemicals have received increased scrutiny from health advocates, the fire safety community, and policymakers. The time to take action on these chemicals has hopefully arrived.
There are many reasons for this:
They contribute to negative health effects. These health issues include cancer, problems with thyroid levels leading to developmental and metabolic issues in fetuses and children, lower quality sperm in men, lower IQ in children, and lowered fertility in women.
They are everywhere. Toxic flame retardants are used in many of our everyday products including computer casings, furniture, foam products, carpeting, and children's products. They are found in dust build-up in our homes, and in our bodies as we inhale or ingest them.
This week, a report was released by the Center for Environmental Health that found high levels of chlorinated Tris, a toxic flame retardant chemical, in nap mats that are sold to daycares nationwide, and in other children's products sold at Walmart, Target and Babies R Us. Tris is a carcinogen that was removed from children's sleepwear in 1979, but is still found in polyeurethane foam used in children's products.
The report was cited in a letter sent by 23 United States Senators Wednesday to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting that the EPA prioritize and conduct risk assessment on flame retardant chemicals, calling the exposure to flame retardants a "serious public health concern."
They are unnecessary. Despite what the chemical industry might have us believe, chemical flame retardants are not any more effective at preventing fires in home furniture than other less toxic methods. Government regulators are realizing this. Earlier this month, California proposed a revision of its outdated furniture fire standard—TB117—that would no longer require the use of chemical flame retardants. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) has also issued a draft fire standard for furniture, expected to be finalized this year, that does not require the use of chemicals. It relies on the use of inherently flame resistant materials, which are already in use on the market.
The rule change, in California and federally, could have benefits for everyone in the country. But only if state laws stand behind the change, and call for manufacturers to keep the worst of the worst flame retardants out of products.
Several states have laws on the books which are beginning to get toxic flame retardants out of our lives. Last year, the state of New York passed the first law in the country banning chlorinated Tris from children's products.
Consumers demand answers and safer products. And should there be any doubt that flame retardant chemicals are a nationwide public concern, watch the CNN video outlining the chemical industry's deception and lies about these toxic chemicals. These industry tricks are contributing to an environment of distrust among consumers, who are left unsure of what products are safe to purchase for their families.
Why are manufacturers so anxious to keep large amounts of flame retardants in our consumer products? Globally, flame retardant chemicals are big business, making more than $4 billion a year. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) is spending big money to protect that profit, and is showing up everywhere it can to try and fight bans on these chemicals.
Our consumer products should not be dumping grounds for toxic chemicals that threaten the health and safety of our families. We will continue to work on state laws that encourage manufacturers to provide us with the safest products possible, free from harmful and toxic flame retardant chemicals.
"Because structure fires burn so much hotter than ever before, flame retardants offer little if any protection. But they do add to the toxic haze that often engulfs firefighters when they respond to a call." Lou Paulson, president of California Professional Firefighters.