March 12, 2013
Senate Finance Committee
Senator Thomas M. Middleton, Chair
Senator John C. Astle, Vice Chair
HB 99 – Child Care Products Containing Flame Retardant Chemicals (TRIS) – Prohibition
Tris (2-chloroethyl) phosphate, or TCEP, is a flame retardant found in polyurethane foam as well as in other products. TCEP has been used for several decades, with production in 2006 reported as between 500,000 and one million pounds. It has also been reported to be used as a plasticizer and in industrial processes. TCEP has been widely detected in surface water, with the United States Geological Survey finding it in 58% of 139 streams sampled nationally. Tests of indoor air have found the chemical in homes, offices, libraries, hospitals, and computer classrooms.
Manufacturers put these chemicals into baby products to meet Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117), a unique California flammability standard for foam in juvenile products and upholstered furniture implemented by the California Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (the Bureau). A study identified flame retardants in 80 of 101 baby products from across the U.S. and from Canada. Although there is no data to show that the TB117 flammability standard has prevented fire deaths, accumulation of flame retardant chemicals in humans and animals and adverse health effects in animals have been well documented in a body of peer reviewed literature. Studies have found associations between increased halogenated flame retardant body levels and reduced IQ in children, endocrine and thyroid disruption, changes in male hormone levels and reduced fertility, increased time to become pregnant in women, adverse birth outcomes, impaired development, and cancer.
Product Testing Revealing TCEP
In a recent study of baby products, fourteen of 101 products in the study were found to contain the flame retardant TCEP. The finding of TCEP in nine nursing pillows out of eleven analyzed is of particular concern due to the high level of contact babies and mothers have with nursing pillows and the volatility or tendency of this flame retardant to escape from the product. Another study released in January 2012 found TCEP in just one baby product.
Why should we be concerned?
A majority of these flame retardants are organosphosphates, some of which are similar in structure to restricted pesticides such as chloryprifos. Since the chemicals are used at levels of up to 5%, a home with 20 pounds of foam in furniture and baby products could contain as much as a pound of TDCPP or TCEP, chemicals identified as probable human carcinogens. Biomonitoring studies have detected flame retardant chemicals in the body fluids and breast milk of nearly all Americans tested. PBDE concentrations in the North American population and in household dust are 10 to 40-times higher than measured in Europe and other parts of the world. These chemicals can remain in the human body for many years. Samples of breast milk, serum, and house dust from California contain higher concentrations of PBDEs compared to other states, which is thought to be due to the unique TB117 flammability requirement in California. One study found that body burden levels in California children are two to nine times higher than in similar-aged children across the U.S, and four to nine times higher than children in Mexico, and up to one hundred times higher than those in children of similar ages in Europe.
Laboratory studies have indicated that TCEP causes cancer, harms the nervous system and impairs fertility. Because of these concerns, the European Union has designated it as a Substance of Very High Concern, and it has been listed by the state of California as a carcinogen under Proposition 65.
Cancer: The National Institutes of Health conducted a two-year study of mice and rats exposed to TCEP in their food, and found increases in kidney tumors in rats. Other studies have found increased rates of kidney tumors, leukemia, and thyroid cancer.
TCEP has been identified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization 25 and the State of California 26.
Nervous system harm: In laboratory studies, animals exposed to TCEP developed convulsions and striking damage to the brain including lesions and loss of neurons. The animals also had lasting damage to learning and memory.
Reproductive toxicity: TCEP appears to have the ability to broadly affect fertility.
Mice exposed to the chemical had reduced sperm count, damaged sperm, and fewer pups per litter. When researchers attempted to mate unexposed females with exposed males, the pairs did not exhibit normal mating behavior and only one female bore a litter.
What are the fire safety benefits of using these chemicals in baby products?
Adding flame retardant chemicals to baby products has not been shown effective in saving life or property. California’s flammability standard TB117, has led to the use of flame retardants in furniture for more than thirty years. Despite this, an analysis of fire data from 1980 to 2005 by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), years when TB117 furniture was sold much more in California than in other states, does not show a greater reduction in the rate of fire deaths in California compared to that of other states without such a standard. This lack of overall performance of TB117 is not surprising considering that TB117 is a small open flame standard and does not provide protection from ignition by large flames. Once the cover fabric
burns, the underlying foam is presented with flame challenge which is many times larger than the small flame which originally ignited the fabric.
More effective fire safety strategies include decreased smoking, fire-safe cigarettes, fire-safe candles, and the increased use of sprinklers and smoke detectors. These can prevent fires without adding potentially hazardous chemicals to consumer products. Early data suggest that fire-safe cigarettes, now mandatory across the U.S., may have a much greater life-saving effect than the hundreds of millions of pounds of flame retardant chemicals added to consumer products.
In addition, while flame retardants may reduce the time for a material to ignite by a few seconds, they increase the carbon monoxide, toxic gases, and soot produced once the fire begins. Most fire deaths and most fire injuries result from inhalation of these gases and soot. When the flame retardants themselves eventually burn, they can produce highly toxic, bioaccumulative and persistent dioxins and furans. Firefighters have high levels of four kinds of cancers which have been associated with dioxin exposure and may be connected to the use of flame retardants.
With all these adverse health effects, why are these chemicals used in our baby products?
Chemtura, Albermarle, and Israeli Chemicals Limited, the three chemical manufacturers who produce halogenated flame retardants, employ lobbyists and spend millions of dollars 49 at the state and federal level to initiate and maintain flammability standards that are favorable to their industry. In the U.S, neither federal nor state environmental protection agencies have the authority to require manufacturers to ensure that flame retardant chemicals used in consumer products are safe for human health.
What can we do?
The Maryland General Assembly should ban toxic Tris flame retardants in consumer products, particularly the carcinogens TCEP and TDCPP. States were the first to take action on PBDEs, and can take swift action to address this new threat. New York banned TCEP in early 2011, and a number of states will consider bans on Tris flame retardants in 2013. States can’t wait for Congress—they need to protect their residents from this immediate threat. At the same time, action at the state level will prompt Congress to act. States are proven laboratories for chemicals policy, showing what actions will succeed in protecting health and providing a model for federal action. State action also motivates industry to seek a federal solution, to avoid a patchwork of regulation across the country.
Maryland should also require companies to replace toxic chemicals with safer solutions.
To get off the toxic treadmill, companies need to find safer materials, processes, and chemicals to replace toxic chemicals in products. Without legal requirements, however, only the most health- and safety-conscious companies will take this kind of action. To level the playing field and avoid costly and unproductive substitutions, states should pass legislation requiring companies that use toxic chemicals to conduct thorough assessments and identify safer materials, processes, and chemicals. Eleven states are already working together, as part of the Interstate Chemicals Clearinghouse, to create a common
understanding of how companies should assess chemical hazards and identify safer options.
Safer alternatives for flame retardants are available
Fire prevention is the first step in avoiding the unnecessary and excessive use of harmful flame retardant chemicals. Fire-safe cigarettes, sprinklers, and smoke detectors, along with the enforcement of improved building codes, are all proven to be effective in reducing fire-related deaths. Good product design can also reduce and eliminate the need for chemical flame retardants by using less flammable materials or by placing a physical barrier between the flammable component and outside materials. Finally, safer alternatives to chlorinated and brominated flame retardants that still meet applicable flammability standards have been identified. The EPA recently acknowledged that there is no evidence to substantiate claims that the use of certain flame retardants has resulted in a reduced incidence of fires.
Maryland PIRG support HB 99, and requests a favorable report.
Congress Must Act to Remove Toxic Substances from Products Our Families Use Everyday: Flame Retardants TDCP and TCEP ; Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and NRDC. Retrieved from http://www.saferchemicals.org/resources/chemicals/tdcp-tcep.html January 22, 2013.
Green Science Policy Institute. “Flame Retardant Chemicals in Baby Products: The unintended
consequences of flammability standards.” 10 Sept 2010.
Hidden Hazards in the Nursery. Washington Toxics Coalition/Safer States. 2012.
Identification of Flame Retardants in Polyurethane Foam Collected from Baby Products. Heather M. Stapleton, Susan Klosterhaus, Alex Keller, P. Lee Ferguson, Saskia van Bergen, Ellen Cooper, Thomas F. Webster, and Arlene Blum. Environmental Science & Technology. 2011.