One of the great consumer and public safety success stories in recent years is California’s long-running battle to get toxic chemical flame retardants out of our homes.
For decades, these chemical agents were required to be put into cushions, mattresses and other home furnishings. The goal was fire safety, but retardants were a health hazard for residents and also for firefighters exposed to toxic fumes.
Against a deceptive public relations blitz by chemical companies, California led a national revolution. In 2013, the state updated its flammability standards for furniture to reflect the true dangers of toxic flame retardants. A few years later, California enacted a law requiring all upholstered furniture in the state to have warning labels.
But California’s fight against these health threats to our children and our first responders is still far from complete. The Legislature is considering a bill – Assembly Bill 2998 – that would ban the sale after Jan. 1, 2020 of new upholstered furniture, mattresses, and certain kids’ products containing toxic flame retardants.
The bill passed the Assembly in May and faces its first Senate committee hearing on Wednesday. The Senate should approve it as well to protect Californians.
Chemicals historically used as retardants have been linked to cancer, decreased IQ in children, hyperactivity, hormone disruption, compromised immune systems and reproductive issues. “Replacement” chemicals carry many of the same health risks, and some new ones.
These flame retardants don’t just stay in the cushions; there’s evidence that every time you sit on the couch it may be release chemicals into the air. Studies have found them in the blood of 97 percent of Americans, who have 10 times the level of these chemicals than Europeans and 100 times higher than Japanese. Children are more vulnerable to the effects of the chemicals because their bodies are still developing. While a majority of mattresses, furniture, and children’s products are already being produced without these chemicals, a significant minority still expose people unnecessarily.
Worst of all, chemical flame retardants aren’t necessary in these products. A study by the National Fire Protection Association, which develops science-based standards for fire agencies, concluded that treated furniture didn’t offer “a significantly greater level of open flame safety.”
Flame retardants also increase the danger to firefighters, who are already exposed to a relentless swamp of toxins that increase their risk of cancer. When furniture burns, dangerous byproducts are created that make the air even more toxic.
California needs to step up and get these toxins out of our consumer products once and for all.
Brian K. Rice is president of California Professional Firefighters and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Laura Deehan is public health advocate with the California Public Interest Research Group and can be contacted at email@example.com.