CA a Step Closer to Removing Toxic Chemicals from Our Homes

Becoming a parent is a joyful, life-changing challenge. My six-month-old daughter is a beautiful, playful baby. Like any new mom, I want only the best for her — and, most of all, I want to keep her safe.

That’s not as easy as it ought to be. Sure, I can babyproof my home to reduce the obvious hazards. But because of the work I do as a scientist for NRDC, I know that the obvious hazards aren’t necessarily the worst dangers facing our children.

I can put a safety latch on the cabinet under the sink to keep her away from the deadly chemicals a curious, crawling baby might get into — but I can’t protect her from the hidden, unnecessary chemicals added to many household products.

That’s why NRDC, the California Professional Firefighters, and the Center for Environmental Health have co-sponsored a bill in California, AB 2998 by Assembly Member Bloom, to address the presence in our homes of toxic flame retardant chemicals.  

These chemicals have been linked to many serious health issues — including cancer, hormone disruption, developmental defects and reproductive problems.   Flame retardant chemicals are supposed to reduce the risk of fire, but it turns out they are not necessary in products like furniture, children’s products, and many mattresses. Instead of being helpful, the chemicals migrate out of these products into the air and settle in household dust, exposing us and our children to their harmful effects.

For decades, the chemical industry has pushed the notion that flame-retardant chemicals are essential for stopping household fires — going as far as to create and fund a phony grassroots organization, Citizens for Fire Safety, designed to push their use. But fire safety experts have found that flame retardant chemicals in these products are not necessary to protect against real-world fires.

Firefighters, concerned about their own exposure to the chemicals during fires, have helped lead the coalition supporting AB 2998 to get these dangerous chemicals out of furniture and other household items. As first responders, they are on the frontline of exposures and face much higher risks of diseases like cancer, which flame retardant chemicals, and the toxic byproducts they create during fires, are associated with.

Because their use has been so ubiquitous for so long, almost all of us have been exposed to these toxic chemicals. Studies have shown that greater than 95 percent of Americans have detectable levels of these chemicals in their blood. Children have higher concentrations of these chemicals in their bodies, because they crawl, play on the floor and furniture, and constantly put their toys and hands in their mouths.

AB 2998, which bans flame retardant chemicals of concern from upholstered furniture, certain children’s products, and the foam of adult mattresses, just passed the state legislature with bipartisan support and is currently awaiting the Governor’s signature.

Because California is such a large market, this bill will likely benefit many parents and children across the nation.

It isn’t always easy being a mom, however rewarding it is to raise a child. It is unfortunate that chemical companies who put profits ahead of public health and safety have made it so much harder. Parents shouldn’t have to worry that couches and other household products are exposing their families to harmful substances.

Prior legislation in California and action by other states has helped reduce the use of flame retardant chemicals, but they continue to be used in a significant share of furniture and other household items, leading to unnecessary exposure to toxic chemicals. That’s why parents should urge the Governor to sign AB 2998.

About the Authors

Anna Reade

Staff Scientist, Healthy People & Thriving Communities program
Blog Post

Toxic flame retardant chemicals—linked to a variety of negative health effects—have been added to upholstered furniture, many kids’ products, and mattresses for a long time. And the kicker is that they are not even needed for fire safety.

Blog Post

Yesterday evening, the California legislature provided final approval for Assembly Bill 2998 by Assembly Member Bloom, moving the state one step closer to eliminating toxic flame retardant chemicals from California homes.

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