What's at Stake
The entire class of organohalogen flame retardant chemicals has been associated with serious human health problems, including cancer, reduced sperm count, increased time to pregnancy, decreased IQ in children, impaired memory, learning deficits, hyperactivity, hormone disruption and lowered immunity.
The chemicals continue to be used at high levels in consumer products.
A broad coalition of health, firefighter, consumer and science groups are asking the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to ban four categories of consumer products—children’s products, furniture, mattresses and the casings around electronics—if they contain any flame retardant in the chemical class known as organohalogens.
Petitioners include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Hispanic Medical Association, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Learning Disabilities Association of America, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, the League of United Latin American Citizens, Worksafe, Dr. Philip J. Landrigan and the Green Science Policy Institute.
This entire class of chemicals has been associated with serious human health problems, including cancer, reduced sperm count, increased time to pregnancy, decreased IQ in children, impaired memory, learning deficits, hyperactivity, hormone disruption and lowered immunity. Nevertheless, the chemicals continue to be used at high levels in consumer products.
These chemicals migrate continuously out from everyday household products into the air and dust, such as when a guest sits on a sofa or a baby is laid down on a crib’s mattress. As a result, more than 97 percent of U.S. residents have measurable quantities of toxic organohalogen flame retardants in their blood. Children are especially at-risk because they come into greater contact with household dust than adults. Studies show that children, whose developing brains and reproductive organs are most vulnerable, have three to five times higher levels than their parents.
A growing number of firefighter organizations have expressed concern about the use of this class of chemicals as well. When consumer products containing these chemicals burn, the fire and smoke become more toxic. The International Association of Fire Fighters has determined that there is a link between exposure to the fumes created when toxins burn and the disproportionately high levels of cancer among firefighters.
No law or government regulation in the country compels the use of flame retardants in the products that are the subject of this petition. However, no law or regulation prohibits using chemicals from this toxic class in consumer products either. Over the last decade, as evidence mounts that one flame retardant chemical is dangerous, the chemical industry has responded by phasing it out and replacing it with a structurally similar chemical that eventually also turns out to be harmful.
The most effective solution is to ban products containing this entire class of chemicals. Under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, the CPSC has this authority.
"It is widely understood now that these chemicals provide no safety purpose in the products we're targeting," said Eve Gartner, an attorney for Earthjustice who helped prepare the petition. "There is no legitimate reason for allowing them in our homes."
“The goal of the flame retardants is to give you a little bit of extra time [in a fire],” said Eve Gartner, a New York-based staff attorney for nonprofit environmental justice/advocacy organization, Earthjustice. “The California standard …required that the foam part of the furniture could withstand a small open flame for 10 seconds before your chair goes up in flames. But studies showed [the chemicals] don’t really give you that extra time.”