Firefighters and VPIRG call on legislators to ban toxic, ineffective flame retardant chemicals

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For Immediate Release:   February 20, 2013

Montpelier, VT – Firefighters, parents, public health advocates, and legislators gathered at the State House today to call on the legislature to pass a bill (S.81) to expand the state’s 2009 ban on toxic flame retardant chemicals.  These chemicals are widely used in baby products and furniture, but are linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, reproductive harm, and other negative health impacts. Further, studies show they don’t actually protect us from fires.

Yesterday, a new study was released which found over 90% of children’s nap mats, such as those used at child care centers, contain flame retardant chemicals.  This study included nap mats from nationwide retailers, including a sample from Vermont. These toxins move from products like nap mats and couches into dust and then into people’s bodies.  This is why toddlers who play on the floor and cats who groom their fur have such high levels of flame retardant chemicals in their bodies.

Senator Ginny Lyons stated: “We passed a bill in 2009 to remove the toxic flame retardant Deca from furniture and electronics. Now we discover that the chemical industry is selling huge quantities of Deca for use in shipping pallets. Vermont firefighters deserve protection from this toxin. Vermont’s children should not be exposed to another toxic flame retardant, chlorinated Tris. This chemical is widely used in baby products and furniture. It causes significant health and developmental problems. We need to expand our flame retardant ban to get all of these toxic and ineffective chemicals out of Vermont products.”

This legislation extends the state’s 2009 ban on Deca in furniture and electronics to also cover plastic shipping pallets – similar to legislation enacted in several other states, including Maine, Maryland, and Oregon. Further, S.81 extends the ban to another class of toxic flame retardant chemicals, chlorinated Tris (Tris). This chemical was pulled from children’s pajamas in the 1970s when it was linked to cancer, but it’s come to light that Tris is now commonly used in other baby products such as nursing pillows and changing pads,  and is found in the majority of couches on the market today.

Lauren Hierl, environmental health advocate at VPIRG, stated: “As a mom, I was horrified to find out the nursing pillow I laid my newborn son on for hours each day was soaked in a chemical we’ve known is a likely carcinogen since the 1970s. I want to make sure no other parent has to worry their baby products or furniture contain these toxic chemicals.”

Representative Jill Krowinski added, “I’ve worked on family health issues for years, and evidence continues to mount that these flame retardant chemicals are linked to health problems including cancer, reduced fertility, thyroid disorders and more. These chemicals don’t belong in our couches or baby products. We need to expand our ban on toxic flame retardant chemicals so we can protect the public, and especially the most vulnerable Vermonters, our children, from these unnecessary toxic chemicals.”

“Vermont has been a leader in protecting its citizens from harmful toxic chemicals. We are now joined by 15 other states who share our interest in passing stricter laws to protect citizens, and our children, from harmful flame retardants. It’s time for Vermont to step up once again as a leader by being the first state to ban chlorinated Tris,” said Kalyn Rosenberg, community organizer at Toxics Action Center Campaigns.

An investigative series by the Chicago Tribune published in May told the outrageous history of flame retardant chemicals, and brought national attention to this issue. The investigation revealed ties to Big Tobacco, infiltration of firefighter organizations, and distortion of key science on fire safety. One notable story featured a burn doctor from Seattle who flew on the industry’s dime to testify in a number of states pursuing bans on toxic flame retardants. He told the devastating story of a young baby who was burned, suffered for weeks, and died, which he attributed to a lack of flame retardant chemicals in her crib. But, it turns out this baby never existed.

Here in Vermont, we saw the chemical industry’s tactics first-hand in the 2009 effort to ban Deca. From scare tactics to misleading robo-calls and fake front groups posing as fire fighters, the industry pulled out all the stops trying to convince Vermont legislators not to pass a bill to ban flame retardants. Thankfully, Vermont legislators saw through these tactics and passed the ban on Deca.

Not only do Deca and Tris harm human health, independent experts including the US Consumer Product Safety Commission have concluded these flame retardant chemicals aren’t effective at protecting us from fires.  As one leading fire scientist, Vyto Bybrauskas, put it when discussing the flame retardants in our furniture: “the fire just laughs at it.”

“It’s our responsibility to make Vermont a safer place for the people we serve. Deca and chlorinated Tris are flame retardant chemicals that don’t effectively slow the spread of fires, and can actually make fighting fires more dangerous for fire fighters across Vermont. This is a health and safety issue for the public and for my members,” added Matt Vinci, President, Professional Fire Fighters of Vermont.

One of the driving forces behind the ubiquity of these flame retardant chemicals is the obscure California “Technical Bulletin 117.” Almost every couch cushion or foam product has a label touting the product’s compliance with this regulation. Virtually the only way to meet this standard is by adding significant quantities of chemical flame retardants. California is currently updating their standard, and their draft standard released earlier this month could be met with safer alternatives to risky chemicals, such as fire-resistant fabrics and barrier materials between the fabric and foam that slow the spread of fire.

Hierl added, “Of course we all want to protect our families from fires, and fortunately we don’t have to choose between exposure to toxic chemicals and fire safety. As in so many of our products that contain toxic chemicals, safer alternatives exist. We urge our legislators to put the health and safety of our families above the bottom line of the chemical industry by passing S.81, and ultimately by putting in place a better system to regulate toxic chemicals in all consumer products.”

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