The 2020 session of the Maryland General Assembly has seen a flurry of activity to reduce exposures to harmful chemicals. Over the last two weeks, the Assembly held hearings on multiple bills to ban flame retardants in furniture, children’s products, and mattress foam; to phase out the use of the brain-harming pesticide chlorpyrifos; and to address lead in school drinking water.
Eliminating unnecessary exposure to toxic flame retardant chemicals
Maryland’s Senate Bill 447 and House Bill 424 would ban toxic flame retardants in upholstered furniture, certain children’s products, and mattress foam to protect Maryland residents, following action in other states such as California, Maine, and New Hampshire, and cities such as Anchorage, Alaska, and San Francisco, California. Toxic flame retardant chemicals have been added unnecessarily to these products for a long time—but they are not needed for fire safety. Most manufacturers have recognized this and have moved away from this practice. In fact, BIFMA, the trade association for business and institutional furniture manufacturers, supports the bill. Manufacturers are already meeting these requirements in several states.
Many flame retardant chemicals are linked to a variety of health effects from cancer to learning disabilities, reproductive harm, and hormone disruption. When products with flame retardant chemicals burn, they give off dioxins and furans, which can expose firefighters to additional cancer risks—firefighters have much higher rates of cancer than the general population. And these chemicals are persistent, meaning that they don’t go away, are showing up everywhere in our environment and are building up in people, pets, and the environment. They have been found all over the globe including in high levels in marine mammals like seals and killer whales in the Arctic. And children are particularly vulnerable to the health effects of exposure to these chemicals since they are still developing.
California’s Bureau of Household Goods and Services determined that the addition of flame retardant chemicals does not provide a meaningful fire safety benefit when added to upholstered furniture, and changed its fire safety standard to provide fire safety without the need to add toxic flame retardant chemicals.
However, a small but significant number of laggards continue to expose us to these dangerous chemicals unnecessarily. Alternatives are clearly available and feasible. We can put a stop to this and ensure that Marylanders are protected.
Ending the use of the brain-harming pesticide, chlorpyrifos
SB 300/HB 229 follows action in California and New York to end the use of the brain-harming pesticide, chlorpyrifos. In California, all new sales of sprays have already ceased, and virtually all remaining uses will cease by the end of the year. New York has committed to an administrative phase-out of chlorpyrifos, consistent with the California timeline. Numerous assessments, including those from the US EPA and California EPA, have found current uses of chlorpyrifos to put children at risk. SB 300/HB 229 would help protect Maryland residents from exposure to this brain-harming chemical.
Addressing lead in drinking water
Maryland law requires schools to report all drinking water outlets that show elevated levels of lead, and requires schools to take such outlets out of service or replace them. Unfortunately, its definition of elevated levels of lead follows a dangerously outdated standard—currently 20 parts per billion (ppb). So SB 371/HB 457 and SB 992/HB 1475 both seek to update state law to set a much more health-protective action level of 5 ppb. SB 371/HB 457 also requires ongoing testing every 18 months to keep Maryland’s children safer. The state’s two largest school systems, in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, have already adopted the lower standard, so the rest of Maryland should follow suit.