Time to Pass the NY Family and Fire Fighter Protection Act

New York State Senator Kaminsky and Assembly Member Englebright have introduced a bill (S.4630A/A.5418) to ban toxic flame retardant chemicals in furniture and mattresses and particularly persistent organohalogen flame retardant chemicals in the plastic casings and stands of larger electronic displays (15.5 square inches or larger). Flame retardant chemicals are associated with serious health effects, from cancer and reproductive harm to learning disabilities to interference with the normal operation of hormones. And fire fighters and children face especially high risks from these chemicals.

The bill would not only protect the health of New Yorkers by helping eradicate the remaining uses of toxic flame retardant chemicals in furniture and mattresses on the East Coast, it would also follow the lead of the European Union on electronic displays—making New York the first U.S. state to take action on these products. The bill would require reporting to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation on the alternatives used to replace the organohalogen flame retardants. NRDC is a strong supporter of the bill and is working with many other New York advocates to advance the bill.

The worst part about the flame retardant chemicals used in these products is that these toxic chemicals are not needed to provide fire safety. Findings from regulatory bodies in California and independent scientists show that the flame retardants provide no meaningful fire safety benefits in many products, including those covered by this bill. In fact, the federal Congress recently adopted California’s flammability standard for furniture, which provides for fire safety without the use of these harmful chemicals. And companies are already making these products without the prohibited flame retardant chemicals to meet requirements in California, Maryland, and the European Union. Large companies like Apple, HP, and Sony are already eliminating the organohalogen flame retardants covered by this bill from their electronic displays in the U.S. There is no excuse for continuing to expose New Yorkers to chemicals that can harm their health and can stick around in the environment for a long, long time.

The Legislature should reject the chemical industry’s carefully designed scare talking points that ignore and distort the science, as a groundbreaking Chicago Tribune series several years back exposed in great detail. Fire fighters, furniture manufacturers, and environmental and public health groups support this bill for a reason. These are harmful chemicals that are not needed to provide fire safety and should be eliminated as soon as possible. The only good they are doing is for the chemical industry’s pockets.

About the Authors

Avinash Kar

Senior Attorney and Director, State Health Policy, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program
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In these troubled times, good news out of Maryland. Yesterday, legislation banning the use of toxic flame retardant chemicals in upholstered furniture, certain children’s products, and mattress foam became law.

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As the 2021 legislative session gets into gear, NRDC will once again be engaged on bills related to environmental health and reducing exposures to toxic chemicals.

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When Governor Brown entered office eight years ago, he took action to fix the regulation that was driving the use of pounds of toxic flame retardant chemicals in couches in California, across the country, and even into Canada. With his signature on AB 2998 on Saturday, September 29, he put an end to the practice for good in California.

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