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Maine Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto To Pass Unprecedented Law Phasing Out Flame Retardants

Prevent Harm and Environmental Health Strategy Center
08.02.2017
Category:
News Releases

Passed via dramatic veto override, new law will protect firefighters and families from toxic chemicals in household furniture

AUGUSTA, Maine, August 2, 2017—Decisively overriding the Governor’s veto, Maine legislators have passed the first law in the nation to phase out all toxic flame retardants in upholstered furniture, protecting the health of families and firefighters.

“Once again, Maine common sense leads the nation. This new law phases out all flame retardant chemicals in residential upholstered furniture, because none are needed for fire safety. And the Maine ban tells the chemical industry to give up its futile attempt to weaken national protections,” said Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center and Prevent Harm, which worked with Maine firefighters to pass the bill.

LD 182, “An Act To Protect Firefighters by Establishing a Prohibition on the Sale and Distribution of New Upholstered Furniture Containing Certain Flame-retardant Chemicals,” saw an overwhelming override vote today: 123-14 in the House, and 31-1 in the Senate.

Flame retardants are linked to cancer, and professional firefighters suffer from more than 10 types of cancer at higher rates than the general population. Cancer is now the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths for professional firefighters.

Flame retardant chemicals are also harmful to children, increasing the risk of birth defects and learning disabilities as small children breathe them in with household dust. Moreover, safety experts and firefighters agree that flame retardants are not needed to slow down fires.

LD 182 is groundbreaking for two reasons. First, because flame retardants are unnecessary for fire safety, the new law phases out all such chemicals. This avoids “regrettable substitution,” in which alternatives also prove dangerous. Second, the law helps chill chemical industry lobbying for changes in national fire safety standards to counter California’s decision to no longer require flame retardant chemicals in residential upholstered furniture.

Regardless of industry efforts, after January 1, 2019, such furniture can no longer be sold in the State of Maine if it contains flame retardant chemicals.

"We are thankful to the members of the Maine House and Senate who overwhelmingly showed their support to lessen the risks of cancer for Maine firefighters, and firefighters and families across the country,” said John Martell, president of the Professional Firefighters of Maine.

Representative Jeff Pierce’s (R-Dresden) father was a firefighter who died of esophogeal cancer, and Pierce believes chemical exposures were responsible. “Too many firefighters in this state are suffering from cancer, plain and simple, and now LD 182 will finally help protect them,” Pierce said after the law’s passage. “I thank my fellow representatives for their support for this much-needed law.”

“This is a day that I have been looking forward to for over ten years,” said Ronnie Green, 4th district vice president of the Professional Firefighters of Maine. “Maine’s firefighters put their lives on the line to protect us all, and our legislators have finally stood up to say that firefighters need to be protected in turn from toxic, unnecessary flame retardants. We hope more states follow our lead and protect firefighters from these harmful chemicals.”

“An incredible team fought for this law to protect public health,” said Emily Postman, outreach and organizing manager at the Environmental Health Strategy Center. “Health advocates and firefighters and their families—including firefighters’ widows—traveled to Augusta throughout the winter and spring to speak on behalf of this bill.”

“No state in the nation requires the use of these toxic chemicals, and most furniture manufacturers have stopped using them for obvious reasons. It is time to get the last remaining companies using these chemicals to stop,” said Beth Ahearn, political director of Maine Conservation Voters. “We are proud to stand with firefighters and the many families who have been affected by this issue to protect the health of Maine people, and Maine heroes.”

“Hours of testimony from firefighters and safety experts as well as good bipartisan lawmaking went into this law,” 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. “This law’s passage demonstrates what our Legislature can do when we come to the table and work together to help Maine people.”

“It was a long road to victory on LD 182, and I’d particularly like to thank Maine’s firefighters for the incredible work that they put into getting this bill passed,” said Walter A. Kumiega III (D-Deer Isle), the bill’s sponsor.

Indeed, the story behind this victory is truly a David and Goliath one.

Maine firefighters, firefighters’ widows, parents, teachers, and health advocates were pitted against the multinational chemical industry, which profits from flame retardant sales, to turn this bill into law.

The chemical industry’s trade group, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) lobbies—often successfully—against state legislation that would harm chemical sales, such as LD 182. The chemical industry has manipulated scientific findings to overstate the effectiveness of toxic flame retardants and downplay the health risks for years, as the Chicago Tribune revealed in an award-winning investigative series as far back as 2012.

“The state of Maine has sent a message to the chemical industry that the health and well being of firefighters and families is more important than their profits. Misinformation circulated during the process of getting this bill passed was unfortunate and uncalled for,” Martell said. “The facts show these chemicals don't work and are unsafe. There are safer alternatives for life safety in our homes." 

“Safer States is extremely proud of Maine's firefighters, state advocates, parents, and everyone else who helped get this policy adopted,” said Sarah Doll, national director for Safer States, a ​network of environmental health coalitions and organizations in states around the country. “Restricting all toxic flame retardants in residential furniture sets a national precedent that will protect firefighters and communities in Maine and beyond.”

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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 arm.