Scrutiny of toxic flame retardants gaining traction

Posted by Safer States on July 19, 2012

One of the reasons that toxic chemicals are so pervasive is because they’ve been able to work their way into our homes under the radar. Our cans of tomatoes don’t list BPA in their ingredients, our crib mattresses don’t advertise that they’re stuffed with carcinogens, and our lipsticks aren’t named “luscious lead.”

It takes some digging by scientists, legislators and journalists to realize what’s going on. But thankfully, they’ve been able to expose many of these dangers—especially when it comes to toxic flame retardants.

We’ve long been concerned with flame retardants. These chemicals claim to make us safer, but have been linked to all sorts of health concerns including cancer.

A recent series in the Chicago Tribune tracked the long practice of chemical industry deception when it comes to flame retardants, and how they’ve entered our homes even though they don’t make us safer. This deception has played out in state legislatures across the country (check out our post). Now chemical flame retardants are receiving much needed scrutiny across the country and, hopefully soon, in Congress too.

Earlier this week, 46 state legislators from 13 states sent a letter to the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (pdf), calling for a Congressional investigation of the fire retardant scandal recently reported by the Chicago Tribune. The letter states “the pattern of deception practiced by the chemical industry in state legislatures is unacceptable” and pledges in the absence of federal action, that “state legislators will sponsor new policies in 2013 that move away from flame retardants that have no added fire safety benefit, especially in products that impact our children and other vulnerable groups.”

The letter got Congress’ attention and they will hold a public hearing on chemical flame retardants and the need for stronger laws to prevent unsafe chemicals from getting to market next Tuesday, July 24.

And in Washington state, the Department of Ecology just declared chlorinated Tris flame retardant to be a Chemical of High Concern for Children, requiring manufacturers to let the department know if it’s in their kids’ products .

Policymakers aren’t the only ones looking into toxic flame retardants. On July 13, officials from four state professional firefighter associations sent a letter (pdf) calling on the American Chemistry Council to expel three companies that produce flame retardant chemicals: Albermarle, Chemtura and ICL.

Hopefully Congress will get to the bottom of the flame retardant scandal when it hears testimony next week and pass a strong law to ensure all chemicals are safe before they are put on the market. In the meantime, we’re looking forward to new state policies on flame retardants in 2013.