Flame retardants in our furniture, clothing, and electronics seem like a positive thing, right? Generally, no one wants their home or their clothes — or their kids’ clothes — to catch fire. Yet the Consumer Product Safety Commission had safety in mind when it voted yesterday to outlaw a new type of flame retardants from use on certain products.
The Chicago Tribune reports that the five-person panel voted in favor of banning a specific type of flame retardant chemical from use in products for babies and toddlers, mattresses, upholstered furniture, and enclosures for electronics.
The halogenated class of flame retardants has been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and neurological problems. These substances are under study by the Environmental Protection Agency, a process that could take years, but some have already been taken off the market after further testing showed that they were harmful and accumulating in our bodies.
“The more evidence accumulates, the stronger we see the case against the use of these chemicals,” Commissioner Robert Adler, who voted to ban the substances, told the Tribune.
It’s rare for the CPSC to ban a substance without Congress asking it to do so, but a 2008 law, the Consumer Safety Improvement Act, gave the Commission the power to act without Congress when a product poses an “unreasonable” risk to the public.
While the safety of people, particularly children, shouldn’t be a political issue, it has become one. Next month, the term of Democratic Commissioner Marietta Robinson will be up, and President Trump will most likely appoint a Republican to the Commission, shifting the panel from three Democrats and two Republicans to the other way around. The current Republican commissioners have already suggested overturning this decision once their new colleague is appointed.
You may have already seen a warning label about halogenated flame retardants if you’ve bought new furniture recently, since it’s required to have a warning label about the substances. However, mattresses don’t have to have a warning, and items for babies and toddlers don’t, either.
If you want to learn more about the use of flame retardants and how they came to be in so many household items, read the Chicago Tribune’s multi-part 2012 investigation of how tobacco lobbyists got flame retardants into our homes as a tactic to shift the blame for house fires from smokers to allegedly flammable furniture.