Toxic chemical flame retardants in building insulation: Historic bill may reduce harmful exposures

by Stephanie Hendricks, Californians for Toxic Free Fire Safety

(Sacramento) Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law AB 127, which for the first time, directs the California State Fire Marshal to consider fire safety without the use of toxic flame retardant chemicals, now commonly used in building insulation.

“This is an important victory for consumers,” said Richard Holober, Executive Director of Consumer Federation of California. “For nearly four decades, chemical manufacturers have reaped billions in profits at consumers’ expense. We are pleased that Governor Brown has taken the important step forward so that toxic flame retardant chemicals are not required in building insulation, especially when they add no fire safety benefits.”

“Excellent news that the state of California recognizes the need to revise out-dated flammability standards for both furniture and building insulation,” said Dr. Arlene Blum, of the Green Science Policy Institute and the UC Berkeley chemistry department, “These old standards lead to the use of flame retardant chemicals associated with health and environmental harm, but we understand now that they don’t provide a fire safety benefit in many cases, such as in insulation used below grade and behind thermal barriers.”

Dr. Vytenis Babrauskas, a leading fire scientist, explains “My recent paper on this subject shows that the current practice of adding flame retardant chemicals to building insulation does not benefit fire safety for most applications. Changing regulations to allow removal of such chemicals will not diminish fire safety, but will be highly beneficial for public health and the environment. I congratulate the State of California for taking this progressive step.”

“The United Nations’ treaty on the most dangerous chemicals in the world, the Stockholm Convention, has added HBCD to the list for phase out. California is taking into account the current science and knowledge linking this chemical to health impacts, and keeping pace with the global standards that are emerging regarding these chemicals,” explains Dr. Veena Singla, senior scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute.

“AB 127 does not ban anything. It simply asks the State Fire Marshal to look into regulations, and make changes that will give building insulation manufacturers the choice to achieve fire safety without the use of toxic flame retardant chemicals like HBCD,” explained Bill Allayaud, California Director of Government Affairs Environmental Working Group.

“For too long the chemical industry has held our families, workers, and businesses hostage with their harmful, ineffective flame retardant chemicals,” said Kathryn Alcantar of Center for Environmental Health. “This important step by California is another long overdue nail in the coffin to this dirty industry that has been polluting our bodies for decades.”

The State Fire Marshal, in consultation with the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings, and Thermal Insulation, will review the flammability standards for building insulation materials. The State Fire Marshal may propose, by July 1, 2015, for consideration by the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission, updated insulation flammability standards whose objectives include maintaining overall building fire safety