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Jan Lee headshot

Chemical Flame Retardant Industry Suffers More Blows

Words by Jan Lee

Flame retardant opponents had a big reason to celebrate this weekend. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced on Sunday that he would get behind the push to ban chemical flame retardants from furniture and children’s products.

Schumer has proposed a ban on 10 specific flame retardants that are used in children’s clothing, bedding and other furniture products. The flame retardant products associated with TDCPP and TCEP in particular have been found to be toxic to humans through long-term exposure.

Plus, Schumer says, there is now question about their efficacy in stopping fires.

“It’s a nightmare scenario that is all too real: Children are being exposed to highly toxic flame retardants -- that can cause cancer and developmental delays -- just by lying on a changing table and in their cribs, or even by sitting on the family couch. To boot, these carcinogenic chemicals found in foam are not effective in reducing fire risks,” the senator said in press conference on Sunday.

Schumer was joined by representatives of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the Center for Environmental Health, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and Clean and Healthy NY, as well as medical personnel from Mt. Sinai’s Children's Environmental Health Center.

Increasing attention is being drawn as well to the exposure that first-line responders and other fire and law personnel receive when they are responding to a fire that may involve furniture sprayed with chemical flame retardants. According to Dr. Susan Shaw, a professor at the State University of New York’s Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, “Cancer is the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths among firefighters today.” Shaw is also the founder and director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute and has conducted research on first-line responders exposed to chemicals in the line of duty.

And environmental advocates have even more reasons to celebrate: Last week four national health care systems announced that they have decided to stop purchasing furniture treated with flame retardants. University Hospitals, Beaumont Health System, Hackensack University Medical Center and Advocate Health Care stated in a joint press release on Sept. 10 that they would begin transitioning away from furniture that contains chemicals used for this purpose. The four health care systems all provide services in the eastern U.S., and are taking the initiative independently.

The announcements are likely to have a decisive effect on the flame retardant industry. The four health care providers have a consumer base of more than 7,000 and say they spend on average more than $40 million on furniture purchases per year combined – all of which they say they will now spend on furniture that doesn’t use chemical flame retardants.

The announcements and recent efforts by furniture companies to drop flame retardants in California dovetail with new studies that suggest the chemicals are retained in the body and the environment much longer than originally suspected. A new study put out by Duke University and Environmental Working Group on mothers and their children who were exposed to TDCPP found that the chemical could actually be measured in the human body, and that children exposed to TDCPP showed significantly higher retention of the carcinogen than adults. One child was found to have 23 times the level of the chemical in his body than his mother. Average readings of exposure showed a 5-to-1 increase in children compared to their parent. TDCPP has been linked to hormonal disruption and other metabolic problems.

Sen. Schumer’s legislation would ban the top 10 flame retardants that have been linked to cancer and health problems. They are:


  • TCEP


  • Decabromodiphenyl ether

  • Antimony trioxide

  • HBCD

  • TBPH

  • TBB

  • Chlorinated paraffins

  • TCPP

Schumer’s bill will, of course, have to be ratified by both the Senate and the House. With the increasing effort by companies and nonprofits to bow out of using chemical flame retardants, however, commercial momentum may have just as much say as political oversight in changing U.S. flame retardant testing and standards.

Image of child in crib: Nerissa's Ring

Image of firefighter: DVIDSHUB

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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