CFC SB 772 Fact Sheet: Toxic Flame Retardants Endanger Public Health

The California home furnishing flammability requirement known as Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117) has led to the annual use of millions of pounds of fire retardant chemicals in California since the early 1980’s. Halogenated fire retardants’the least expensive and most likely chemicals used to meet this regulation’have been linked to endocrine disruption, neurological and developmental impairments, cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities such as attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity, and a host of other health disorders.

Scientists and public health officials are now extremely concerned about the serious health impacts to firefighters, the public, and the environment from the use of these chemicals in a wide range of consumer products, including baby and children’s products. Worse, the chemical industry is not required to do any health studies before introducing these chemicals into our homes.

Last year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued statements strongly discouraging the use of fire retardant in home furniture, including baby products. The federal agency’s scientists cited numerous studies linking fire retardant exposure to cancer, birth defects, reproductive problems, thyroid disorders, hyperactivity, learning disabilities and a plethora of other health concerns.

These chemicals are now found at harmful levels in infants and children, as well as in the terrestrial and marine environment and the food web, including birds of prey, fish, and marine mammals from Florida to the Arctic Circle.

The most respected U.S. green building publication, Environmental Building News, is now recommending that green buildings should avoid polystyrene insulation treated with the brominated flame retardant HBCD. HBCD is the second highest volume flame retardant in current use and a global contaminant.  

Washington State and Maine have banned three of the most widely used PBDEs and many states are considering following suit, based upon evidence that these chemicals are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic. In 2007 and 2008 alone, thirteen different bills were introduced in eleven states to ban the manufacture or use of products containing halogenated fire retardant chemicals.

California: Only State in Country to REQUIRE Toxic Usage

Californians have the highest body burdens in the world of pentaBDE, a potent endocrine disrupting toxic chemical. Our babies are born with these chemicals in their bodies and get a further dose from their mother’s milk and exposure to baby products. Toddlers have three times the level of their mothers.

A study published last year in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found the flame retardant penta-BDE in the dust of California homes at four to 10 times the concentrations found elsewhere in the U.S., and 200 times higher than in Europe. It also found that Californians have twice the concentration of the chemical in their blood as people who live elsewhere in the United States.

Last year, the environmental group Friends of the Earth released a study: "Killer Cribs: Protecting Infants and Children from Toxic Exposure." The organizations testing showed that 56% of infant carriers, 44% of car seats and 40% of portable cribs have high levels of toxic fire retardants. Those may be falsely low numbers. Since testing, it has been learned that some baby-product manufacturers no longer use the fire retardants tested for at the time, having switched to a chemical cousin so dangerous that the Consumer Product Safety Commission forced manufacturers to stop using it in children’s sleepwear 32 years ago.

California is performing toxic experiments on California’s families. Scientists can predict from the animal studies that these experiments will likely turn out badly for our children. Similar in structure to both dioxins and PCBs ‘ two extremely dangerous chemicals ‘ HFRs have no observable benefit in reducing fire deaths.

Firefighters and Low Income Communities Most Threatened

When certain fire retardant chemicals burn, they form highly toxic dioxins and furans. In November 2006, the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine published an analysis of 32 studies that found that fire fighters have significantly elevated rates of four types of cancer: multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate, and testicular cancer, likely resulting from chemical exposures. For that reason, many firefighter groups across the nation have been active in support of efforts to reduce or eliminate the use of certain toxic fire retardants in consumer products.

Low-income residents and communities of color are the most likely to be exposed to these chemicals and fall victim to these diseases as they purchase products laden with the toxins at the big box stores. Other communities can opt out by purchasing more expensive imported or toxic-free product lines of baby products. Furthermore older or second-hand products are more likely to have crumbly foam that will escape and cause the greatest health hazard.

As a result of these public health dangers, both the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the International Association of Firefighters have also opposed their use in favor of other, less toxic but fire-safe alternatives.

Broad Coalition Supports SB 772

SB 772 would get rid of an unnecessary regulation that has not been shown to protect our children from fires and does expose them to high levels of toxic chemicals. This bill will protect our children’s health and maintain fire safety.