You’ll Never Believe What Maine Just Did!

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Here’s a new day for our health

Maine just accomplished what no other state in the U.S. has managed to do: ban the sale of new upholstered furniture that have harmful and unnecessary flame retardant chemicals.

This is an unprecedented move to protect children and families from cancer causing and “brain drain” chemicals that have no added fire safety benefit. The Maine ban restricts residential furniture from containing flame retardants, chemicals that have been linked to cancer, thyroid disruption, delayed mental and physical development, memory and learning problems, lower IQ, and advanced puberty.

But this historic win was not without its nail biting moments. Despite strong bipartisan support for this bill in both the Senate and the House, Maine’s Governor, Paul LePage vetoed the bill.  But the very next day the legislature showed extraordinary strength and overrode the Governor’s veto with stunning numbers:  34 to 1 in the Senate and 123 to 14 in the House. Kudos to the legislators who stood up for public health and safety over the profits of chemical companies.  And kudos to the Environmental Health Strategy Center, the Professional Fire Fighters of Maine, all the other organizations, and all the engaged citizens that helped make this ban a reality.

This victory is personal, too

The passage of this bill is also personal for me and provides a sense of completion. You see, over the last eight years, I worked on numerous California bills to restrict the use of flame retardant chemicals.  Year after year, these efforts were stymied by the chemical industry and their armies of lawyers, lobbyists, and professional liars who fabricated stories and twisted facts to prevent commonsense regulations.

But finally in 2014, we successfully co-sponsored and passed a state law requiring furniture manufacturers to label if their products contained, or were free from, flame retardant chemicals. Even though this was a California law, many large companies (including companies like IKEA, Ashley Furniture, Crate and Barrel, La-Z-Boy) adopted this label nationally because of the size of the California market, helping parents nationwide make safer choices and protect their children.

Today approximately 75% of products, checked by the California bureau in charge of enforcement, are labeled as not containing flame retardant chemicals – a HUGE win for consumers.  But this means that almost 1/4 of furniture products still contain unnecessary flame retardant chemicals.  And that, for me, is still too much toxic furniture in the marketplace wreaking havoc with peoples’ health.

Maine’s new law takes California’s win to the next level and brings all of us one step closer to ensuring that our nation’s furniture no longer contains unnecessary, brain-damaging, hormone disruptors that contaminate our bodies, homes, pets, and the surrounding environment.

Nevertheless, we’ll stay vigilant

The supporters of the flame retardant industry will not give up their efforts to get flame retardants back into our furniture.  Even as I write this article, a small, industry-dominated subcommittee of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is busy developing an unnecessary furniture standard that would yet again promote the use of harmful and unnecessary flame retardants.  We will need to beat back standards like these that put chemical industry profits ahead of our children’s health. CEH will be monitoring this situation and other developments related to these dangerous chemicals. If you’d like to stay informed or get involved, sign up for our mailing list.

In the meantime, let’s hope this victory inspires more states to take action. And let’s celebrate Maine’s groundbreaking victory as a wonderful reminder that, even in this political era, we can make a difference in our fragile democracy.

 

Judy Levin is the Pollution Prevention Director at CEH