A Glimmer of Hope on Chemical Fire Retardants

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We discussed how the EPA has not been sufficient to protect us from many of the harmful chemicals we are exposed to. As Suzanne Price, an owner of an organic baby boutique in SF, said, "The conventional wisdom is that if it’s so bad, the government would have banned it.

She goes on, "And some people thought they needed chemicals to keep their babies safe from a fire." How far from the truth.

Not only are chemical fire retardants linked to reproductive issues, hormone disruption, cancer, attention problems, and lowered IQs (learn more about CFRs and their health impacts here), they have also been shown to have minimal impact on fire control - and possibly make fires worse. According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, "government scientists found that chairs containing flame retardants...burn just as fast as identical chairs without them.” One study found that while CFRs may take fewer seconds initially to catch fire, once they burn, they burn more voraciously. 


And, when chemical fire retardants burn, they release dioxins, potent carcinogens, that firefighters are exposed to in the line of duty. Blood tests of SF firefighters have found high levels of dioxin. The head of the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation, Tony Stefani, blames chemical fire retardants for widespread cancer among firefighters.

So, there are reasons personal and patriotic for getting rid of chemical fire retardants in our home.


And, now, there is actually some legislation on the horizon that will move us in the right direction. Yesterday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a ban on the sale of upholstered furniture and children’s products containing flame retardant chemicals. The ban will take effect in January 2019, so there's still some time to go. 

But, while San Francisco is not as large as the state of California, this could create meaningful waves. After all, it was a law in California, Technical Bulletin 117, that caused manufacturers to use chemical fire retardants nationwide. As former state legislator Mark Leno said, "Because of the size of our marketplace, all furniture sold anywhere in the U.S. had to be made to comply with our regulations." Let's hope there are similar waves of impact on business decisions this time. 


1. San Francisco bans upholstered furniture containing chemical flame retardant chemicals. SF Examiner. http://www.sfexaminer.com/sf-bans-sale-upholstered-furniture-containing-flame-retardant-chemicals/

2. Chicago Tribune: Playing with fire investigative series. Green Science Policy Institute. http://greensciencepolicy.org/chicago-tribune-playing-with-fire-investigative-series/

3. San Francisco may ban controversial flame retardant chemicals. SF Chronicle. http://www.sfchronicle.com/politics/article/SF-may-ban-controversial-flame-retardant-chemicals-11349686.php

4. Flame Retardants in Furniture. Green Science Policy Institute. http://greensciencepolicy.org/topics/furniture/

5. San Francisco moves to protect children from flame retardant chemicals. Environmental Working Group. http://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2017/10/san-francisco-moves-protect-children-flame-retardant-chemicals