Are You Fired Up For A Ban on Flame Retardants? Here’s Help...


It’s got the makings of one of those stories featuring an unlikely group of professionals: a firefighter, a doctor, a scientist, and a bunch of consumer and children’s’ health advocates walk into a bar...

…however the punch line here is one of hope and progress. Replace “bar” with Consumer Product and Safety Commission (CPSC), and we’ve got the latest story on advocates protecting our rights to live free of toxic chemicals. As consternation grows over the latest industry backed toxics regulation reform bill, consumer protection groups are uniting to tackle the problem one class of chemicals at a time.

Twelve consumer health and advocacy organizations rallied together and filed a petition with the CPSC to put a ban on PBDEs, a class of flame retardants known by the scientific and medical community to have a host of negative health outcomes due to human exposure. Under the counsel of EarthJustice, the group focuses on products treated with PBDEs: children’s toys, clothing et al., furniture, mattresses, and even the casings surrounding electronics. Thanks to their petition, you’ll feel disturbed and helpless:

The use of flame retardants in the four product categories at issue is not required by any legally binding flammability standard.  In addition, exposures to flame retardants that migrate from consumer products into homes cannot be adequately prevented or controlled with warning labels.  Knowledge that these toxic chemicals migrate from common household products into the indoor environment does not give consumers the ability to take meaningful measures to avoid exposures.  This migration cannot be prevented, nor can people avoid ingesting small amounts of house dust, the mechanism by which most people are exposed to these chemicals." 

If that doesn’t fire you up against retardants, nothing will. Scientific evidence clearly shows the dangers of PBDEs as well as their ineffectiveness in preventing fires. It seems that the only “rewards” of PBDE’s are those that come in the form of revenue to the chemical companies that manufacture them.  Allie Gross of Mother Jones speculates that this petition could have a big effect on the some of these companies which, according to Gross, have relied on tricky tactics to bolster profits despite knowledge of the dangers of PBDEs:  

If the ban catches on, it will come as a major blow to the chemical manufacturers, who, for decades, have been downplaying concerns about flame retardants' toxicity. The companies' strategies have been compared to those used by Big Tobacco: They cleverly confuse the public into believing scientific findings are a matter of opinion and up for debate."

This petition is a great example of a broad array of advocacy groups rallying together against one toxic enemy. EarthJustice gives an account of statements on the petition from each of the organizations in this group. For instance:

Statement from Harold Schaitberger, General President, International Association of Fire Fighters:

When toxic flame retardants burn—and they do burn—it creates a serious health risk for fire fighters.  There is significant scientific data that shows the association between firefighting, exposure to deadly toxins and cancer. That's why the IAFF is committed to finding solutions to provide toxic free fire safety."

Statement from Dr. Elena Rios, MD, MSPH, President & CEO, National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA):

Unhealthy environments lead to unhealthy lives. Studies show that children from communities of color have significantly higher body burdens of flame retardant chemicals. As an organization committed to improving the health of Hispanic and other underserved populations, it is critical that we address toxic exposure that threatens the wellbeing of our children and undermines their future.”

The negative health outcomes of PBDE exposure effect us all, and this band of activists show us all the importance of coalition building to fight for our collective right for a healthy world!

Image via Flickr


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson 

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