In response to a petition filed by leading consumer, healthcare, firefighter and science groups, today the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took three critical steps toward protecting consumers and firefighters from the hazards posed by a class of flame retardant chemicals, known as organohalogens. The CPSC granted the petition filed by Earthjustice and Consumer Federation of America on behalf of 10 groups and individuals, and directed the Commission’s staff to begin the rulemaking process to ban the sale of four categories of consumer products if they contain any organohalogen flame retardant. The CPSC voted to issue a strongly worded guidance warning the public of the hazards posed by this class of flame retardants in children’s products, mattresses, electronic casings and furniture. Additionally, the CPSC voted to convene a Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (CHAP) to provide scientific expertise to the CPSC’s staff as it proceeds to develop the rules called for today by the CPSC.
Today’s decision by the CPSC demonstrates the immense power of a broad coalition of health, safety, consumer and civil servants to protect our families,” said Earthjustice co-counsel Eve Gartner. “We commend today’s decision that will eventually rid our homes of this toxic class of chemicals that is damaging our children’s brains and robbing them of their full potential.”
“The CPSC sent an unequivocal message today that it will protect children, firefighters and all consumers from the known and well documented hazards posed by organohalogen flame retardants in consumer products,” stated Rachel Weintraub, legislative director and general counsel at Consumer Federation of America and co-counsel on the petition. “We applaud the steps taken today.”
“This is a huge win for children’s ability to learn and thrive to their full potential,” said Maureen Swanson, Healthy Children Project Director for Learning Disabilities Association of America. “There is now scientific consensus that even very low levels of halogenated flame retardants can harm the developing brain. We applaud the CPSC for taking action to protect current and future generations from these neurotoxic chemicals.”
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.
Numerous eminent scientists have documented the harms posed by this class of chemicals, noting that when organohalogen flame retardants are added to products, they leach out and result in human exposure. Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, testified at a public hearing last week: “We know that all chemicals in this class will escape into the environment and into people.” Because these chemicals migrate continuously out from everyday household products into the air and dust, more than 97 percent of U.S. residents have measurable quantities of toxic organohalogen flame retardants in their blood. This is a major public health concern because all well-studied organohalogens have been associated with serious adverse human health effects. Children are especially at-risk because they come into greater contact with household dust than adults, and studies show that children, whose developing brains and reproductive organs are most vulnerable, have three to five times higher blood levels of these chemicals than their parents.
Firefighter organizations are deeply concerned 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.
The CPSC’s vote to grant the petition will start a rulemaking process at the CPSC. However, because the rulemaking process will take time, the Commission issued guidance to manufacturers, urging them not to use these chemicals in the production of children’s products, mattresses, furniture and the casings of electronics. The CPSC also announced that it will convene a scientific panel to provide guidance to assist the Commission staff regarding the hazards posed by organohalogen flame retardants.
Petitioners, represented by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice and Consumer Federation of America include: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Women’s Association, Consumers Union, Green Science Policy Institute, International Association of Fire Fighters, Kids In Danger, Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, League of United Latin American Citizens, Learning Disabilities Association of America, National Hispanic Medical Association, and Worksafe.