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Maine Firefighters Want Phase Out of Toxic Chemical Flame Retardants in Home Furniture Sold in Maine

Prevent Harm and Environmental Health Strategy Center
05.02.2017

 Safety and Health Professionals, Furniture Retailers, and 
Firefighters’ Family Members Call for Support of Bill

​AUGUSTA, May 2, 2017—​Flanked by members of the Professional Fire Fighters of Maine as she spoke today at the Maine State House, Yarmouth resident Theresa Flaherty asked Maine legislators to support a bill that would 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. And although he wasn’t fighting a fire when he died, his death at age 63 was caused by what’s considered the number one cause of line-of-duty deaths among professional firefighters today: 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.”

At the State House today, Flaherty joined firefighters and their family members, public health and safety professionals, furniture business owners, and others calling for Maine legislators to support LD 182, a bill that would phase out so-called “flame retardants” in home furniture sold in Maine. 

“As we say in the fire service, too many of our men and women are dying with our boots off, from cancer,” said John Martell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Maine. “This bill is a small step in the right direction of removing from our work unnecessary hazards that could contribute to carcinogenic exposures.”

Toxic chemical flame retardants are linked to cancer. When they burn, some become even more toxic, exposing firefighters to carcinogenic furans and dioxins through breathing and skin absorption. Firefighters also can be exposed to the chemicals from toxic soot covering the gear they wear, which many firehouses lack proper washing machines to clean.

Safety experts say ​flame retardants ​are not needed to slow fires. They say it’s smoke detectors, sprinklers, and strong safety codes that save lives. 

Toxic chemical flame retardants also escape from furniture into airborne dust that children play in and families breathe. In addition to cancer, they’re linked to reproductive harm and harm to the developing brain. 

Those gathered at the State House today said they want the full Maine Legislature to support the flame retardants phase-out bill that received strong bipartisan support from the Environment and Natural Resources Committee last month. Eleven committee members voted “ought to pass” in favor of the majority report amendment to LD 182 led by Senator Tom Saviello (R-Wilton), Rep. Jeffrey K. Pierce (R-Dresden), and Rep. Ralph Tucker (D-Brunswick).

At its public hearing several weeks ago, Republican, Democrat, and Independent state legislators testified in favor of the bill, including former Republican Senator Linda Baker, of Topsham. She described losing her firefighter husband, Brunswick Fire Chief Skip Baker, to cancer 16 years ago, and said she wonders whether chemicals he was exposed to while fighting fires contributed to the rare cancer he suffered.

Senator Paul Davis (R-Sangerville) and Rep. Paul Stearns (R-Guilford) referenced Guilford of Maine, which has created jobs in Piscataquis County by manufacturing upholstery fabric without flame retardant chemicals, for which there’s growing demand.

Senator Dana Dow (R-Lincoln), who owns Dow Furniture, a Waldoboro-based furniture business, favors the bill, as does Ross Endicott, owner of Endicott Home Furnishings in Scarborough.

“We started selling flame-retardant free furniture in 2012 because we knew it was the right thing to do,” Endicott said “But since then, we’ve seen that by assuring our customers that our products are safe, we’ve also increased consumer confidence, which in turn creates repeat business. It’s a win-win.”

The bill also has the support of pubic health researchers and organizations including Dr. Courtney Carignan of the Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association, and Prevent Harm.

It would not be the first time that Maine took action to restrict flame retardant chemicals in consumer products. Between 2004 and 2010, the state enacted three pieces of legislation prohibiting the sale of furniture and other products containing a group of flame retardants called PBDEs. Since then, chemical manufacturers replaced those chemicals with other harmful substitutes, some of which share the same toxic properties that firefighters were concerned about a decade ago. 

California no longer uses the outdated 1975 furniture flammability standard called TB 117, that required the use of flame retardants in cushion foam. The standard was updated in 2013 (now called TB 117-2013), as public safety experts demonstrated that furniture could be made fire-safe without the use of any chemicals. 

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Environmental Health Strategy Center is 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. Prevent Harm is our action partner.