American People to Safety Commission: Ban Harmful Flame Retardants!

Firefighters, doctors, nurses, parents and cancer survivors agree: It’s time to get rid of flame retardants.

Firefighters call to ban flame retardants
Firefighters agree that it's time to get rid of toxic flame retardants. These chemicals are associated with serious human health problems, including cancer, reproductive issues and developmental impairments. (TheImageArea/iStock)

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Last week was a busy time for Earthjustice’s work on flame retardants. Tuesday, January 19 marked the end of the public comment period on our petition to ban toxic organohalogen flame retardants from children’s products, furniture, mattresses and electronics’ casings.

A bit of background (you can read more here and here): Organohalogen flame retardants are associated with serious human health problems, including cancer, reproductive issues and developmental impairments. They’re released from everyday household products into the air and dust; as a result, more than 97 percent of U.S. residents have measurable quantities of organohalogen flame retardants in their blood. Children and people of color typically have the highest “body burdens.”

During the public comment period, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was inundated by a flood of comments in favor of the ban, thanks to the support of a broad coalition of advocacy groups and concerned citizens.

Some of the comments came from firefighters and their families. Organohalogen flame retardants aren’t particularly effective at preventing real-world fires—and when they burn, they make smoke even more toxic. The International Association of Fire Fighters has found a link between exposure to the fumes from burning chemicals and the disproportionately high levels of cancer among firefighters. It is heartbreaking to think that these men and women are exposed to needless, insidious dangers on top of the many risks they willingly face to protect their communities.

Here are just a handful of the comments that were received:

My husband was a firefighter for nearly 25 years and recently died from a rare cancer. I connect the dots directly to what he was exposed to during his career. He comes from a long line of firefighters—his father and uncles, all firefighters, are still alive and lead active lives. All the “better living through chemistry” years killed my husband and many other people who trusted companies to not kill for profit. Clearly companies need citizens to define morality—do not allow the sale of toxic flame retardant materials in the U.S.  -B. Stewart M., Chesapeake Beach, MD

As a firefighter, I understand the science and politics around chemical fire retardants. They have got to go! They don’t benefit us, and they directly put us at risk for an assortment of dangerous diseases. -Russell S., Raleigh, NC

Other comments came from doctors, nurses and scientists. They wrote about their concern for the extra risks that these chemicals pose to children, since still-developing brains and bodies are more vulnerable to toxic disruption and because children’s clothing, bedding and other products are often manufactured with flame retardants. People used to think these products made children safer, but now we know they do the opposite.

I am a chemistry professor and it is crucial for our health that we reduce the exposure to toxic chemicals in everyday products. Chemicals that we would wear safety equipment to handle in the laboratory should not be added to products, and toxic flame retardants show no life-saving benefits to counter the toxicity of the chemicals and it is time to ban them from furniture. -Lance P., San Diego, CA

As an RN specialized in newborns and child development, this is absolutely critical. Infants are nursed on “boppy” pillows filled with these toxic flame retardants. In the 1970s, the chemical industry lied to Congress to get their chemicals mandated in our household goods and children’s clothing, for profit only, knowing they would give us cancer and neurological disorders and disabilities. 50 years of profiting from poisoning Americans has got to stop! -Melanie C., Falmouth, ME

There were also poignant comments from cancer survivors who don’t want others to suffer the same illness. They’re right; there’s no good reason to keep using chemicals that we know to be harmful. The only people who oppose the ban are chemical manufacturers.

It is time to remove from the market these chemicals which have proven to be toxic. As a third-generation breast cancer survivor, I would like to know that things that may have contributed to my cancer will NOT be an issue for my child. -Lisa S., New Market, MD

Being a cancer survivor I am well aware of the effect of chemicals on our bodies. I am sick of having to read labels to avoid chemicals and other ingredients that are harmful to me and my family members. We have a right to know what is in what we are wearing, sitting on, walking on, sleeping in and on and breathing into our lungs. Stop the use of toxic chemicals. -Angela G., Massapequa Park, NY

These are just a few compelling examples from among the tens of thousands of comments submitted by groups and individuals to the CPSC. Earthjustice’s long list of allies supporting the flame retardants ban includes the International Association of Fire Fighters, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Consumer Federation of America, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Learning Disabilities Association of America, the Consumers Union, Worksafe, the National Hispanic Medical Association, the Green Science Policy Institute, the American Medical Women’s Association, Kids in Danger, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Working Group, the Breast Cancer Fund, the Center for Environmental Health, Clean Water Action and many others. Our advocacy revealed the tremendous breadth and depth of public support for regulating flame retardants.

Thanks to all of our partners and supporters, we’ve sent a loud and clear message to the CPSC. Now it’s up to the commissioners to act.

(Though the official comment period has ended, please leave us a comment below to tell us what you think about a ban on flame retardant chemicals.)

Mariana Lo is a Supervising Litigation Paralegal with the Northeast regional office in New York, NY.

Earthjustice’s Toxic Exposure & Health Program uses the power of the law to ensure that all people have safe workplaces, neighborhoods, and schools; have access to safe drinking water and food; and live in homes that are free of hazardous chemicals.