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Landmark Decision on Household Products with Toxic Flame Retardants Protects Children from Harmful Chemicals

September 20, 2017

BERKELEY CA (September 20, 2017) — Today, in a precedent-setting decision, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has granted a petition to ban children’s products, furniture, mattresses, and electronics cases that contain any member of the harmful chemical class of organohalogen flame retardants. 

These toxic chemicals are found in the bodies of 97% of Americans. They are associated with cancer, infertility, obesity, reduced IQ and neurological impairments in children, and hormone disruption.

To prevent further harm, on March 31, 2015, a coalition including pediatricians, firefighters, consumer groups, and scientists represented by Earthjustice and the Consumer Federation of America filed a petition calling on the CPSC to protect Americans, especially children, from known adverse health effects from brominated and chlorinated flame retardants. These chemicals are used at high levels in consumer products, putting our health, and that of generations to come, at risk.

According to Linda Birnbaum, Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program, at a CPSC hearing  on September 14, 2017, “The evidence has built to the point that all these chemicals and all future chemicals of this class will escape into the environment and make their way into people. I have no doubt about this.”

In discussion today about the vote, Commissioner Elliot Kaye stated that we should always choose to protect children over protecting chemicals. Sadly, toddlers have 3 to 10 times the flame retardant levels of adults, or even more. This can affect their developing brains and reproductive organs when they are most vulnerable to lasting harm.

Furthermore, firefighter organizations support stopping the use of this class of chemicals because they do not provide a fire safety benefit in these products, and they make fires more deadly. When consumer products containing these chemicals burn (and they do burn), they emit more toxic gases when flame retardants are present.

“This historic ruling can prevent the common practice of banning a harmful chemical only to replace it with a similar chemical that causes similar health problems,” according to Dr. Arlene Blum of the Green Science Policy Institute. “It will set a precedent of regulating chemicals by class and can prevent harm from exposure to the entire chemical class.”

You can learn more about the class concept here. This petition is based on extensive scientific research and includes detailed letters of support from thirteen distinguished scientists and physicians.

As the rulemaking can take a long time, the staff will publish a guidance document in the Federal Register on the hazards of these flame retardants and urging consumers, manufacturers, and retailers to avoid these chemicals in children’s products, furniture, mattresses, and the casings of electronics.

Petitioners, represented by the law firm Earthjustice and the 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.

The work of the Green Science Policy Institute was funded by the New York Community Trust