The MA Senate voted unanimously on June 21 to ban 11 toxic flame retardants from children’s products, bedding and residential upholstered furniture sold or manufactured in the Commonwealth
Public health advocates hailed the vote as an important legislative victory and called upon the House to pass the bill before the end of the Massachusetts Legislative session.
Senator Cynthia Stone Creem (D-Newton) and 32 co-sponsors filed S.2555, An Act to Protect Children and Firefighters from Harmful Flame Retardants. A similar bill, H.1245, has been filed in the House by Representative Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge).
Creem commented, “This is an important victory for the health of children, firefighters and all residents of Massachusetts. We have long been aware of the dangers of toxic flame retardants and it’s high time that we protect our most vulnerable populations.”
Since 1975, manufacturers have added chemical flame retardants to a wide array of household items. Flame retardants are commonly found in products with polyurethane foam, such as sofas, car seats, strollers, and nap mats. They are also incorporated into electronic products and building insulation. Research has shown that flame retardants migrate out of products into household air and dust and are found in the blood of almost every American tested.
The flame retardants banned by Creem’s bill have been linked to increased risk of cancer, fertility problems, neurological disorders, and other serious health concerns.
Kathryn Rodgers of Silent Spring Institute says, “As scientists, we have been sounding the alarm for many years about the public’s widespread exposure to dangerous flame retardant chemicals in consumer products.”
In 2012, reporters at The Chicago Tribune found that flame retardant chemicals are not effective in slowing or stopping the spread of fire. Worse, many flame retardant chemicals become more toxic when burned, which puts firefighters especially at risk. Massachusetts firefighters have cancer rates three times higher than the general public.
“Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety (MassCOSH) has made passing a flame retardants ban one of its priorities because each year we read the names of fire fighters on Worker Memorial Day who died from occupational disease. Ironically, chemicals marketed as flame retardants are among the substances that can cause cancers and other adverse health effects for firefighters and the public,” said Tolle Graham MassCOSH Labor and Environment Director. “We thank Massachusetts Senators for passing this bill and urge the House to do the same before the end of July.”
Cheryl Osimo, Executive Director of Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC) says, “Our children and brave firefighters should not be exposed to ineffective chemicals that needlessly cause harm.” Margo Golden, Board President, adds, “We continue to defend the health of our firefighters, and to give our children and future generations the benefit of living a safer, healthier, and fuller life.”
Nine of the 11 flame retardants banned in the Senate bill passed today are “organohalogen” flame retardants. In September 2017, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) agreed to consider a ban on organohalogen flame retardants. The commission also issued a warning, advising consumers to stay away from products with organohalogen flame retardants and suggesting that retailers stop carrying them.
In practice, this warning is close to impossible for consumers to follow, because most products with chemical flame retardants are not labeled. That’s why the bill passed today is an important victory for firefighters, children, and families.
The bill echoes a growing national outcry over the use of flame retardants in consumer products. In 2012, the Chicago Tribune published a series of articles exposing the deceptive campaign by the tobacco and chemical industries to keep in place policies requiring the heavy use of flame retardants. The Tribune reported that through a blatant misrepresentation of facts, industry advocates misled the American public into believing that flame retardants were a life-saving technology. In reality, the heavy doses of flame retardants added to couches, mattresses, kid’s pajamas and other items have done more harm than good.
In order for S.2555 to become law, the House of Representatives must vote on its version of the bill, and Senate and House versions must be reconciled, by July 31, 2018. If the bill becomes law, Massachusetts will join 13 other states, including Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, Minnesota and Washington, in restricting the use of flame retardants.
“Kudos to the Senate for recognizing that we can achieve public safety without compromising public health,” said Elizabeth Saunders, Massachusetts Director for Clean Water Action. “We urge the House to take equally bold action so that we can join neighboring states in protecting children, firefighters and all of us for generations to come.”
This post was originally published in the Patch.