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Emily Scarr
State Director

Author: Emily Scarr

State Director

(410) 467-9389

Started on staff: 2005
B.A., Vassar College

Emily directs strategy, organizational development, research, communications and legislative advocacy for Maryland PIRG. Recently, Emily helped win small donor public financing in Montgomery County, Howard County, Prince George's County, and Baltimore City; the Family and Firefighter Protection Act to ban flame retardants in children's products, furniture and mattresses; and, the Maryland Keep Antibiotics Effective Act to protect public health by restricting the use of antibiotics on Maryland farms. Emily serves on the Executive Committees of the Maryland Fair Elections Coalition, the Maryland Campaign to Keep Antibiotics Working, and the Maryland Tobacco Free Kids Coalition. She also serves on the Steering Committees for the Maryland Pesticide Action Network and Marylanders for Open Government. Emily lives in Baltimore with her husband, children, and dog.

Below is testimony on one of our priority bills for 2020, the Family and Fire Fighter Protection Act. This bill restricts the use of flame retardant chemicals in furniture, mattresses and children’s products. These chemicals are not effective for fire safety. Commonly used chemical flame retardants are linked to cancer and other health impacts

SB447: Public Health - Products Containing a Flame-Retardant Chemical - Prohibition on Import or Sale
HB424: Public Health - Products Containing a Flame-Retardant Chemical - Prohibition on Import or Sale

FAVORABLE

Flame retardant chemicals have been added to consumer products and furniture for decades with a goal of providing fire safety. Unfortunately, they are not effective at reducing harm from fire and are putting our firefighters and families at risk from exposure. For these reasons, Maryland should join states and retailers that are restricting these chemicals in children’s products, furniture and mattresses.

Maryland has been a national leader in protecting families from some of the most toxic flame retardant chemicals. For example, Maryland was the first state in the country to ban the toxic flame retardant DecaBDE in furniture, despite complaints from industry. Now, that chemical has been phased out nationwide. Unfortunately, while Maryland has been successful with single chemical bans, new toxic chemicals continue to take their place, leaving us in a relentless game of whack-a-mole. 

It’s time for Maryland to join the movement to eliminate flame retardant chemicals in children’s products, furniture, and mattresses to protect our children, firefighters, and families. 

They don’t work, they aren’t safe, and they need to go.

NATIONAL MOVEMENT FOR REFORM

In 2017 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued guidance that manufacturers of children's products, furniture, and mattresses refrain from adding an entire class of flame retardants to their products.  Due to their inherent physical-chemical properties being “highly toxic” and that they can “widely migrate out of products, regardless of how the products are used, bioaccumulate and present a serious public health concern.”

In 2018, California passed a law to ban the sale of furniture and children’s products containing chemical flame retardants, which went into effect last month. Other states, including New Hampshire and Maine have acted to phase out the use of Flame Retardants in newly upholstered furniture. 

In addition, many major retailers and manufacturers have already committed to phase out these chemicals or already have, including:

  • Ashley Furniture, the nation’s largest furniture retailer, stopped manufacturing and selling furniture containing flame retardant chemicals in 2015.
  • Other major brands including Ikea, Crate and Barrel, and Williams Sonoma no longer sell furniture with flame retardant chemicals.

Unfortunately, some manufacturers continue to expose people to these chemicals unnecessarily, hence the need for this bill.

NOT EFFECTIVE FOR FIRE SAFETY

Chemical flame retardants are marketed to manufactures as a way to prevent harm from fires by slowing the progress of a flame and allowing victims more time to escape. Unfortunately, years of research has shown that these chemicals are not needed to meet fire safety standards and in fact flame retardants make fires more dangerous due to the carcinogenic dioxins they produce when they burn. 

"Most deaths from fires result from “inhaling carbon monoxide, irritant gases, and soot.” The addition of flame retardant chemicals “can increase the yield of these toxic by-products during combustion.” Additionally, flame retardant chemicals free cling to, and penetrate fire-fighter protective gear, leading to increased rates of exposure. More than half of all career firefighter line-of-duty deaths are from job-related cancers.

There are effective and safer ways to provide fire safety. “Fire-safe cigarettes, fire-safe candles, child-resistant lighters, sprinklers, and smoke detectors can prevent fires without the potential adverse effects of flame retardant chemicals.”  Using naturally flame resistant materials, and wicking fabric to become less susceptible to flame are also effective substitutes. 

Recognizing all of this, California updated its furniture flammability standard in 2013 to not require chemical flame retardants. None of the products included in this bill require flame retardant chemicals to meet flammability standards in Maryland of federally.

HIGHLY TOXIC TO HEALTH

When flame retardants escape from products they bind with dust and accumulate in our bodies. They have been linked to harmful health effects, including endocrine and thyroid disruption, immunotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, cancer, as well as lowered IQ and developmental problems in children. 

They release cancer-causing chemicals when they burn, endangering firefighter health.

Children are at high risks due to their size, frequent hand-to-mouth behaviors and increased contact with dust on floors, couches and other surfaces.

Because these chemicals have been so prevalent in our communities, the CDC has found flame retardant chemicals in upwards of 90% of Americans, and in higher levels in children than adults. Americans have higher levels of some of the chemicals in their bodies than other developed countries, at levels 10 times higher than those in Europe, 100 times higher than Japan, and 3 times higher than in Canada.

Given the dangerous toxicological profiles of flame retardants, their failure to provide fire safety, and the abundance of effective alternatives for fire safety, there is no good reason to continue to use these chemicals in furniture and children’s products. 

We respectfully request a favorable report. 

Emily Scarr
State Director

Author: Emily Scarr

State Director

(410) 467-9389

Started on staff: 2005
B.A., Vassar College

Emily directs strategy, organizational development, research, communications and legislative advocacy for Maryland PIRG. Recently, Emily helped win small donor public financing in Montgomery County, Howard County, Prince George's County, and Baltimore City; the Family and Firefighter Protection Act to ban flame retardants in children's products, furniture and mattresses; and, the Maryland Keep Antibiotics Effective Act to protect public health by restricting the use of antibiotics on Maryland farms. Emily serves on the Executive Committees of the Maryland Fair Elections Coalition, the Maryland Campaign to Keep Antibiotics Working, and the Maryland Tobacco Free Kids Coalition. She also serves on the Steering Committees for the Maryland Pesticide Action Network and Marylanders for Open Government. Emily lives in Baltimore with her husband, children, and dog.