Massachusetts’s Burning Issue

June 19, 2015

When firefighters rush into a burning building, flames are not the only thing they have to worry about on the job. With the average house fire temperature reaching 1,100 degrees, toxins released and created by items in a fire can lead to exposures that can cause very serious health issues for these brave workers.
“The public is just becoming aware of the toxic exposures firefighters experience on the job,” says MassCOSH Labor Environment Coordinator Tolle Graham. “Now we are taking our fight to protect the men and woman who keep us safe to the Statehouse.”
On June 18, at a public hearing before the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, Graham, Massachusetts fire fighters, scientists, health professionals, workers, and educators seeking action on toxic hazards called for swift passage of a bill that would help to protect fire fighters and children from toxic flame retardants. The legislation, H. 2119, The Children and Firefighters Protection Act, would ban the use of flame retardants in children’s products and upholstered furniture that become immensely hazardous chemicals when exposed to high temperatures.
“Firefighters have cancer rates three times higher than the general public,” said Edward Kelly, president of the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts. “When we enter a home fire we breathe in gasses and toxins from flame retardants that put us at a higher risk. We're calling on the legislature for swift passage of this bill as it will no doubt save lives.”
Due to a California flammability standard, known as TB117, that was found to be based on faulty science, toxic flame retardants are added to highchairs, car seats, nursing pads, furniture, carpet pads, electronic equipment (including toys), and many more common household products.  The California standard was revised in 2013 and can now be met with or without flame retardants.
"Every single one of us has flame retardants in our bodies, and children often have even more than adults,” said Laura Spark of Jamaica Plain, a member of the Governing Board of the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow and a participant, along with her daughter Naomi Carrigg, in a 2004 Environmental Working Group study on flame retardants in the blood of American women and their toddlers. “The concentration of flame retardants in my daughter’s blood was 6.5 times higher than mine. Since we now know that the chemicals are not needed or even effective, Massachusetts should take action to eliminate their use.”
Fire fighters are exposed to these flame retardants when they go into burning buildings which have been linked to severe health problems including cancer, birth defects, decreased fertility, and nervous system damage. 
H.2119 will require manufacturers and retailers to cease the use of flame retardants in children’s products and residential upholstered furniture sold in Massachusetts. The flame retardant chemicals that would be phased out include Chlorinated Tris (TDCPP, TCEP, TBBPA), Decabromodiphenyl ether, Antimony trioxide, HBCD, TBPH, TBB, Chlorinated paraffins, and TCPP.
"The long-term health of our community is in danger,” said Representative Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge), lead sponsor of the bill. “Increasing public concern has already pushed manufacturers and retailers to take steps on their own to eliminate these toxins from their products. Passing the Children and Firefighter Protection Act would be a practical first step towards protecting our most vulnerable citizens and those who risk their lives for our families every day,”
The legislation builds on momentum from 13 other states that have banned Polybrominated di-phenyl ether (PBDE) and/or Chlorinated Tris chemicals for use in children’s products and/or residential furniture. In addition, many major American companies are phasing out the use of toxic flame retardants, including Ashley Furniture, the nation’s largest furniture retailer. Many other furniture chains, including Crate & Barrel, The Futon Shop, and La-Z-Boy, all have flame retardant-free furniture available for purchase.
“The evidence is overwhelming,” said Graham. “Flame retardants don’t work and it’s time to get rid of them to protect our firefighters and ourselves.”