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Firefighters, Families, and Lawmakers Urge Legislature To Vote to Phase Out Toxic Flame Retardants

Environmental Health Strategy Center and Prevent Harm
07.19.2017

“He was my hero,” Therese Flaherty said of her husband, a firefighter who died of a rare form of cancer. Today would have been their 48th wedding anniversary.

 AUGUSTA, Maine, July 19, 2017—Yarmouth resident Theresa Flaherty spent her 48th wedding anniversary at the State House today, urging Maine legislators to support a bill that would help reduce harm to firefighters’ health—firefighters like the man she once called “my hero.”

Until his death six years ago, Yarmouth firefighter Timothy J. Flaherty was her husband of 42 years. His death at age 63 was caused by what’s considered the number one cause of line-of-duty deaths among professional firefighters: cancer.

“He fought till the end,” Teresa Flaherty said when Tim died. “He was the best husband I could have asked for. He was my hero.”

Professional firefighters suffer from more than 10 types of cancer at higher rates than the general population. Toxic “flame retardant” chemicals increase health risks for Maine firefighters, exposing them to cancer-causing byproducts. Safety experts say they are not needed to slow down fires.

And so Flaherty today called on the Maine Legislature to bring LD 182, a bill that would phase out toxic flame retardants, to the Governor’s desk.

Ronnie Green, 4th District Vice President of the Professional Firefighters of Maine, joined Flaherty at the State House. "Our members continue to die of cancer at alarmingly high rates. This is our chance to finally get these unnecessary carcinogens out of furniture once and for all. Now we’re just asking legislators to finish the job on LD 182,” Green said.

Representative Jeff Pierce’s (R-Dresden) father was a firefighter who died of esophogeal cancer, and Pierce believes chemical exposures were responsible. “So many firefighters, first responders, and their family members are exposed to these toxic chemicals for no good reason,” said Pierce today, urging his colleagues to pass LD 182. “We can’t afford to wait any longer. Let’s make sure politics don’t get in the way of a good bipartisan bill."

“LD 182 is the byproduct of careful deliberation by legislators and our friends in the fire service, and it has gotten consistently strong bipartisan support,” said Representative Ralph Tucker, Chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, where the bill was debated and finalized before being sent for votes by the full Legislature. “We hope that 11th-hour politics won’t stand in the way of a very common-sense policy passing into law.”

Indeed, LD 182 has received powerful bipartisan support, receiving votes of 139 – 5 in the House and 34 – 1 in the Senate. Members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee also voted 11 – 1 “ought to pass” in favor of LD 182’s Majority Report Amendment.

However, lobbyists funded by the out-of-state chemical industry have spent the legislative session defending the use of toxic chemical flame retardants. In the past, the chemical industry has manipulated scientific findings to overstate the effectiveness of flame retardants and downplay the health risks.

Moreover, firefighters attending last week’s meeting of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee were alarmed by a proposal to “commit the bill” back to the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. This would send LD 182 back to square one and effectively annul the strong bipartisan votes it earned this year. 

With these potential roadblocks facing LD 182, the Legislature will take its final votes on Thursday before sending the bill to the Governor’s desk.

“Firefighters and advocates have spent the last six months working closely with legislators on both sides of the aisle to produce a good policy that works for everyone, and we’ve received overwhelming bipartisan support. It’s time to send it to the Governor’s desk.” said Emma Halas-O’Connor, of Prevent Harm.

In addition to the harm they pose to firefighters, flame retardant toxic chemicals are also harmful to children’s health, increasing the risk of birth defects and learning disabilities. Maine needs this law, and it needs it now, say firefighters, their families, and health advocates.

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Prevent Harm is the action partner of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, a public health organization ​based in Maine and ​working for healthy people thriving in a healthy economy. We educate and organize people and partners to advocate for two intertwined solutions: reducing humans' exposure to toxic chemicals in food, drinking water, and products, and sustainably manufacturing products that are safe for people and the planet. Together, these solutions can reduce disease and disability linked to toxic chemicals—cancer, infertility, learning disabilities, birth defects, autism, allergies, and asthma—and create a healthy economy based on good-paying jobs and careers created by manufacturing safer, sustainable products.