Governor Jerry Brown Signs Historic Toxic Flame-Retardant Ban

Immediate Release: September 29, 2018

Contacts: Alvaro Casanova, CEH, 805-427-5969, Zack Kaldveer, CEH, 510-938-2664

Sacramento, Calif. – Governor Jerry Brown signed a historic bill today that will protect the health of consumers, workers, families, firefighters, and the environment by phasing out harmful flame-retardant chemicals in upholstered furniture, children’s products, and some mattresses. Given the size of California’s market, this law is expected to push companies to make products safer for the entire nation.

For decades, flame retardants have been needlessly used in everything from furniture to children’s products. These toxic chemicals — which have been linked to cancer, thyroid disruption, memory and learning problems, delayed mental and physical development, lower IQ, advanced puberty, hormone disruption and reduced fertility — migrate into household dust that is then ingested and inhaled by humans, pets, and wildlife. As a result, they are now ubiquitous in our households and workplaces and have steadily built up in the environment and in human bodies.

“Governor Brown has cemented his legacy of protecting Californians from toxic flame retardants today,” said Center for Environmental Health’s (CEH) Alvaro Casanova. “This new law represents a landmark victory for public health and a testament to what is possible when lawmakers follow sound science over chemical industry propaganda.”

Children are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals because their brains and reproductive organs are still developing, and they come into greater contact with household dust than adults because they crawl, play on the floor and furniture, and put their toys and hands in their mouths. Further, as flame retardants burn, the fire and smoke that firefighters are exposed to becomes more toxic, which has been linked to higher risks of cancer among our first responders.  

For decades, the chemical industry has pushed the notion that flame-retardant chemicals are essential for stopping household fires. Yet, fire safety experts, including studies by California’s Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (BEARHFTI), the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Fire Protection Association, have found that flame retardants in these products are not necessary to protect against real-world fires.

Unfortunately, efforts to ban or even restrict toxic fire retardants have repeatedly failed thanks to an ongoing, deceptive, multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign orchestrated by some of the world’s largest chemical companies. These tactics — including a now dissolved industry front group — were exposed in 2013 by a Chicago Tribune investigative series. The explosive series helped pave the way for today’s signing of AB 2998 (D-Bloom). The bill is sponsored by CEH, California Professional Firefighters Association, and Natural Resources Defense Council.

Consumers and manufacturers are already driving a significant market shift away from flame retardants due to their growing desire to avoid these toxic, costly, and unnecessary toxic chemicals. Recent testing results and furniture labels indicate that about 80% percent of furniture is now being produced without flame retardants. Nonetheless, a significant minority of products continue to use these toxic chemicals and expose people to them unnecessarily. 

“For too long we’ve been sacrificing public health at the altar of chemical industry profit,” noted Casanova. “There are already green and healthy alternatives without unnecessary flame-retardant chemicals available on the market. By banning these toxic chemicals California can help spur a nationwide transition toward safer, more sustainable, cost-effective products.”

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