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(Annapolis, MD) – The Maryland Senate yesterday passed HB 99, which bans child care products for children under 3 containing the flame-retardant chemical TCEP. The chemical is one of several flame-retardants highly criticized by health advocates for their toxic effects in laboratory studies and persistence in the household environment. The bill is sponsored by Delegate James Hubbard from Prince Georges County. House bill 99 has now passed both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly and is on its way to Governor O’Malley’s desk.
“We thank Delegate Hubbard for his leadership in protecting children's health from these harmful and unnecessary chemicals. Now it's time for us to get off the toxic treadmill of replacing one harmful chemical with another,” said Jenny Levin, State Advocate with Maryland PIRG.
Scientists, fire safety experts, and government agencies have increasingly voiced concerns over the effectiveness and safety of toxic flame retardants.
"We are pleased that Marylanders will be protected from this dangerous chemical,” said Rebecca Ruggles, Director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network. “But recent science is increasing our understanding of the health threats of many flame retardants, and health advocates want to see more comprehensive action to protect children from a range of toxic chemicals.”
“These chemicals do not belong in our homes and around our children. We join the many voices calling on our leaders to protect children’s health and get these chemicals out of Maryland,” said Luke Michaelson, PhD, RN, and member of the Maryland Nurses Association environmental and legislative committees.
Other states considering bills to regulate the use of flame retardants in 2013 include Connecticut, Maine, Oregon, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont. Also earlier this year, California proposed a new fire safety standard (called TB117-2013) that would provide improved fire safety without the use of harmful flame retardant chemicals.
Tris (2-chloroethyl) phosphate, or TCEP, is a flame retardant found in polyurethane foam as well as in other products. TCEP has been used for several decades, with production in 2006 reported as between 500,000 and one million pounds. It has also been reported to be used as a plasticizer and in industrial processes. TCEP has been widely detected in surface water, with the United States Geological Survey finding it in 58% of 139 streams sampled nationally. Tests of indoor air have found the chemical in homes, offices, libraries, hospitals, and computer classrooms.
Manufacturers put these chemicals into baby products to meet Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117), a unique California flammability standard for foam in juvenile products and upholstered furniture implemented by the California Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation. A study identified flame retardants in 80 of 101 baby products from across the U.S. and from Canada. Although there is no data to show that the TB117 flammability standard has prevented fire deaths, accumulation of flame retardant chemicals in humans and animals and adverse health effects in animals have been well documented in a body of peer reviewed literature. Studies have found associations between increased halogenated flame retardant body levels and reduced IQ in children, endocrine and thyroid disruption, changes in male hormone levels and reduced fertility, increased time to become pregnant in women, adverse birth outcomes, impaired development, and cancer.
Product Testing Revealing TCEP
In a recent study of baby products, fourteen of 101 products in the study were found to contain the flame retardant TCEP. The finding of TCEP in nine nursing pillows out of eleven analyzed is of particular concern due to the high level of contact babies and mothers have with nursing pillows and the volatility or tendency of this flame retardant to escape from the product. Another study released in January 2012 found TCEP in just one baby product.
Why should we be concerned?
A majority of these flame retardants are organosphosphates, some of which are similar in structure to restricted pesticides such as chloryprifos. Since the chemicals are used at levels of up to 5%, a home with 20 pounds of foam in furniture and baby products could contain as much as a pound of TDCPP or TCEP, chemicals identified as probable human carcinogens. Biomonitoring studies have detected flame retardant chemicals in the body fluids and breast milk of nearly all Americans tested.
Laboratory studies have indicated that TCEP causes cancer, harms the nervous system and impairs fertility. Because of these concerns, the European Union has designated it as a Substance of Very High Concern, and it has been listed by the state of California as a carcinogen under Proposition 65.
Cancer: The National Institutes of Health conducted a two-year study of mice and rats exposed to TCEP in their food, and found increases in kidney tumors in rats. Other studies have found increased rates of kidney tumors, leukemia, and thyroid cancer. TCEP has been identified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization and the State of California.
Nervous system harm: In laboratory studies, animals exposed to TCEP developed convulsions and striking damage to the brain including lesions and loss of neurons. The animals also had lasting damage to learning and memory.
Reproductive toxicity: TCEP appears to have the ability to broadly affect fertility. Mice exposed to the chemical had reduced sperm count, damaged sperm, and fewer pups per litter. When researchers attempted to mate unexposed females with exposed males, the pairs did not exhibit normal mating behavior and only one female bore a litter.
What are the fire safety benefits of using these chemicals in baby products?
Adding flame retardant chemicals to baby products has not been shown effective in saving life or property. California’s flammability standard TB117, has led to the use of flame retardants in furniture for more than thirty years. The TB117 standard is currently under revision due to criticism from the health, science and fire safety communities.
More effective fire safety strategies include decreased smoking, fire-safe cigarettes, fire-safe candles, and the increased use of sprinklers and smoke detectors. These can prevent fires without adding potentially hazardous chemicals to consumer products. In addition, while flame retardants may reduce the time for a material to ignite by a few seconds, they increase the carbon monoxide, toxic gases, and soot produced once the fire begins. Most fire deaths and most fire injuries result from inhalation of these gases and soot. When the flame retardants themselves eventually burn, they can produce highly toxic, bioaccumulative and persistent dioxins and furans. Firefighters have high levels of four kinds of cancers which have been associated with dioxin exposure and may be connected to the use of flame retardants.
With all these adverse health effects, why are these chemicals used in our baby products?
Chemtura, Albermarle, and Israeli Chemicals Limited, the three chemical manufacturers who produce halogenated flame retardants, employ lobbyists and spend millions of dollars at the state and federal level to initiate and maintain flammability standards that are favorable to their industry. In the U.S, neither federal nor state environmental protection agencies have the authority to require manufacturers to ensure that flame retardant chemicals used in consumer products are safe for human health.
Maryland should also require companies to replace toxic chemicals with safer solutions.
To get off the toxic treadmill, companies need to find safer materials, processes, and chemicals to replace toxic chemicals in products. Without legal requirements, however, only the most health- and safety-conscious companies will take this kind of action. To level the playing field and avoid costly and unproductive substitutions, states should pass legislation requiring companies that use toxic chemicals to conduct thorough assessments and identify safer materials, processes, and chemicals. Eleven states are already working together, as part of the Interstate Chemicals Clearinghouse, to create a common understanding of how companies should assess chemical hazards and identify safer options.
Safer alternatives for flame retardants are available
Fire prevention is the first step in avoiding the unnecessary and excessive use of harmful flame retardant chemicals. Fire-safe cigarettes, sprinklers, and smoke detectors, along with the enforcement of improved building codes, are all proven to be effective in reducing fire-related deaths. Good product design can also reduce and eliminate the need for chemical flame retardants by using less flammable materials or by placing a physical barrier between the flammable component and outside materials. Finally, safer alternatives to chlorinated and brominated flame retardants that still meet applicable flammability standards have been identified. The EPA recently acknowledged that there is no evidence to substantiate claims that the use of certain flame retardants has resulted in a reduced incidence of fires.
Maryland PIRG is a statewide, citizen based public interest advocacy group.
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