Protect Families and Firefighters from Flame Retardants

Flame retardant chemicals sound like a good thing. Unfortunately they are ineffective in preventing the spread of fires and scientific studies have linked them to increased risks of cancer, neurological defects, impaired fertility and respiratory ailments.

These chemicals are added to many common household products like upholstered furniture, bedding, car seats and high-chair pads. Populations most at risk are young children with high everyday exposure and firefighters facing a mix of smoke and chemicals in intense blazes.

We are promoting two bills in the General Assembly, H 5082 and S 166, that will require manufacturers of furniture, bedding and children’s products to phase out the use of all organohalogen flame retardants. Organohalogen compounds like chlorinated and brominated chemicals have been linked to the most severe health effects.

The language in the bill corresponds to a petition before the Consumer Product Safety Commission seeking a similar ban. CPSC testing has demonstrated that these chemicals are not effective at what is supposed to be their primary purpose – preventing fires from spreading.

These chemicals migrate out of the household products and bind with dust. Toddlers and younger children, who spend so much time in the home environment and put objects in their mouths that collect dust, like stuffed animals, blankets and their own fingers, show triple the level of theses bioaccumulative chemicals in their blood as adults.

And firefighter exposure to these types of chemicals has been cited in the rise of cancer rates among first responders. Firefighter unions were instrumental in supporting bills that passed in California, Minnesota and Washington State, and local members of the IAFF have testified in support of our bill.

Thanks to legislation in 13 other states that bans or phases out certain specific types of theses flames retardants, the market is beginning to move away from them. Ashley Furniture, Macy’s, Crate and Barrel, IKEA and Lazy Boy have all agreed to exclude flame retardant chemicals from their products. Most major retailers in Rhode Island offer at least some lines of flame-retardant free furniture, so there are safer products available.

Listen to our chief sponsor in the House, Rep. Mike Morin, a Woonsocket firefighter, discuss the hazards in this interview with WPRI-TV, Channel 12 in Providence.