AB706 and Why We Need it Passed

Last Wednesday was a day of high drama about FR chemicals. Here’s the story in three acts

Act I  The Upholstered Furniture Flammability Stakeholder Meeting for the Senate Commerce Committee was held near DC. I joined by phone at seven am.

— Only California at present has a regulation for furniture flammability but a federal regulation has been under consideration since 1995. The chemical industry is agitating in Congress for a rigorous small open flame standard for the entire country that would lead to heavy usage of potentially toxic chemicals in our furniture. This meeting was held to expedite the furniture and related industries (fabric, foam) giving their input to the Senate Commerce committee.

Meeting discussion centered around whether the new flammability regulation be a smolder-only standard that could be satisfied with furniture design, inherently fire retardant fabrics, and innovative new technologies, or a small open-flame standard requiring potentially toxic fire retardant chemicals.

Many industry representatives make eloquent statements about the hardships their industries would face from an open flame standard and the lack of information on how to meet such a standard without using potentially toxic chemicals. The fabric industry believes that requiring fabric to withstand an open flame could put many companies out of business.

The chemical industry firmly opposes a federal smoldering standard because they say it would compromise fire safety; however, with no current Federal standard, fire safety would increase if a Federal smoldering ignition standard were enacted. The fact that no chemicals would be needed to treat fabrics and foam used in furniture without an open-flame standard no doubt is an unspoken factor.

At the end of a five hour discussion, almost everyone agreed on a Federal smoldering ignition standard for furniture for now and more research on a future small open flame standard.

Act II, A Seminar at the Department of Toxic Substances at 2:00 pm
Non-PBDE Flame Retardants: What Do We Know, and What Do We Need to Know?
— New emerging fire retardants that will be the environmental hazards of the future already can be detected in the environment, bioaccumulate, and have a variety of toxic effects.

Typical examples:
Tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), a flame retardant in circuit boards and plastic housings, is the highest volume brominated flame retardant in production ­330 million pounds used annually in 2002. It has been detected in soils, sediments, fish, predatory birds and human serum.  It is known to cause endocrine disruption in mammals and fish and is an immunotoxicant, interfering with cell signaling pathways.

Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), an additive flame retardant in polystyrene foams used as building thermal insulation, upholstery textiles, and electrical equipment housings is a global contaminant with long-range atmospheric transport.  It is carcinogenic, interferes with thyroid hormones and causes developmental neurotoxic effects.

Dechlorane Plus, an additive flame retardant in electrical wires and cables, computer connectors and plastic roofing materials, has been used for over 40 years and has been detected in air, sediment and fish from the Great Lakes region, Lake Winnipeg and Lake Ontario food webs, and Great Lakes herring gull eggs.  It is highly lipophilic, and bioaccumulative.

The list of chemicals with toxic effects and data gaps went on and on, increasing my belief that regulating whole classes of these chemicals at once is the only way to stop moving from using one toxin to the next when one toxin is banned.

Act III  A meeting with my summer research student at four pm

PBDE fire retardants are half way in chemical structure between PCB and dioxins, which are known to cause cancer and a variety of toxic neurological and reproductive effects in humans.  PBDE cause similar toxic effects in experimental animals. Can this be extrapolated to humans?

Summarizing many of the peer reviewed papers representing decades of work by eminent scientists around the world, Meg, a physician and recent MPH graduate from UC Berkeley, found alarming similarities in the mechanisms of action of PBDEs in animals and PCBs in humans for adverse thyroid, neurological, and reproductive impacts.  In addition she found that the PBDE tissue levels in humans in the US are approaching levels that cause these effects in experimental animals.  Levels of PBDEs in other countries are considerably lower.

Most PBDEs in the US have been used to meet the California open flame standard for furniture flammability that the chemical industry wants to extend to the whole country to improve fire safety.  There is no evidence that decades of such a standard in CA has improved fire safety, but according to Meg’s results, these is increasing evidence for a potential human health catastrophe.

The questions that come to my mind are:

1) Do we need more of these chemicals in our furniture, our environment, our wildlife and our bodies?

2) Based on the mantra of fire safety, can the chemical industry continue to dictate against the
best interests of many other industries, the health of our population, and the planet?

3) When is enough enough?

You can view photos and text from Arlene’s new book  Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life at http://www.arleneblum.com/photo_album.html.

Phone: 510-644-3164                     Fax  510 644-2164
E-mail: arlene@arleneblum.com           Web: www.arleneblum.com


Arlene Blum, PhD
Research Associate in Chemistry, UC Berkeley
Executive Director, Green Science Policy Institute
Office Telephone: 510 898 1704 or 510 898 1739    Mobile: 510 919-6363
Web: www .GreenSciencePolicy .org, www.arleneblum.com

Please check out our short Six Classes videos and learn how to select healthier products.