Under the wire: Mass. legislature sends bill to Governor’s desk that will protect children and firefighters from toxic flame retardants

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

BOSTON—On New Year’s Day, in their final acts before gaveling out the 2017-2018 legislative session, the Massachusetts House and Senate enacted legislation to ban 11 toxic flame retardants in children’s products, household furniture and bedding.  Governor Baker must sign the bill within 10 days for it to become law.

“This is a huge new year’s gift to all Massachusetts families and in particular firefighters,” said Elizabeth Saunders, Massachusetts Director for Clean Water Action and board member of the Alliance. “These chemicals have been putting our children and firefighters at risk for decades and it’s high time that they are removed from the products that we bring into our homes. We’re counting on Governor Baker to join the legislature in prioritizing protection for our most vulnerable by signing this bill into law.”

H.5024 An Act to protect children, families and firefighters from harmful flame retardants is sponsored by Representative Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge).  A parallel bill, S.2555, sponsored by Senator Cynthia Stone Creem (D-Newton) passed the Senate in May. Yesterday, both branches enacted H.5024--thanks to the leadership of Decker, Creem, Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) and Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Framingham) and support from Minority Leaders Senator Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) and Representative Brad Jones (R-North Reading).

“This law will protect the health of children and firefighters,” said Decker.  “Working with Speaker DeLeo, my partners in the Senate, firefighters and so many advocates is exactly what democracy looks like--crafting laws that value people’s lives and highlighting the connection to our well being and how we choose to use chemicals that can lead to our deaths instead of protecting us.   I am honored to have been the voice of many as the House sponsor.”

“I am so proud that this important bill will reach the Governor’s desk, and we can make 2019 the year we stop allowing the sale of products with unnecessary and harmful flame retardant chemicals,” said Senator Creem.  “Working with Clean Water Action, the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, and many other advocates helped increase public awareness and get the bill passed.”

Toxic flame retardants are not needed to meet modern flammability standards. However, they are often added to highchairs, car seats, nursing pads, furniture, carpet pads, electronic equipment (including toys), and many more common household products. These chemicals do not stay in the products; they get out into the dust in our homes and the air that we breathe, and ultimately into our bodies. Children’s developing bodies are much more vulnerable to the health risks associated with flame retardants than adults. Their tendency to touch their faces and mouths add to the danger and put them at even greater risk.

Worse yet, firefighters are exposed to flame retardants when they go into burning buildings.

Studies have shown that  these flame retardants are linked to cancer, nervous system damage, decreased fertility, and other health problems. Firefighters, public health organizations, parent groups, environmental advocates, and others have been pushing for years to ban them.

“While serving their communities, firefighters put themselves at great personal risk not just from flames but from mixtures of carcinogenic and otherwise toxic chemicals. Data shows that firefighters experience increased risk of certain cancers greater than the general public,” said Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, Executive Director at the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety & Health and Alliance board member. “We commend the legislature for taking this practical, feasible step toward protecting the health and safety of those who protect us.”

Fortunately, there are ways to make these products more fire safe and less toxic, such as using less flammable materials and tighter weaves in fabric. Many companies are already doing so.

If this bill is signed by the Governor Baker, Massachusetts will join 13 other states that have already banned one or more toxic flame retardants. Most recently, the state of California banned 4 large categories of toxic flame retardants in children’s products, household furniture and infant and toddler mattresses in a bill signed by Governor Jerry Brown in October.

“The Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow is deeply grateful for the leadership of Senate President Karen Spilka, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senator Creem, Representative Decker and minority leaders Tarr and Jones for their commitment to protecting our most vulnerable from this insidious hazard,” said Janet Domenitz, Executive Director of MASSPIRG and board member of the Alliance. “This is the kind of Christmas miracle we can all believe in.”

“We applaud the Legislature for taking this crucial step to protect our children, firefighters, and the public as a whole from unnecessary exposure to toxic chemicals," said Casey Bowers, Legislative Director for the Environmental League of Massachusetts.

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The Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow is a coalition of public health, labor, environmental, civic, science and health care organizations in Massachusetts working to prevent harm to human health and the environment from toxic chemicals. www.healthytomorrow.org

Since our founding during the campaign to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Clean Water Action has worked to win strong health and environmental protections by bringing issue expertise, solution-oriented thinking and people power to the table. We will protect clean water in the face of attacks from a polluter friendly Administration and Congress.

Elizabeth Saunders
617-869-3937
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