Testimony on HB206 Restricting Toxic Flame Retardants in children’s products and furniture

Chemical flame retardants are found in many products in our home: toys, couches, electronics, and changing pads, for example. The Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention has identified flame retardant chemicals in the bodies of over 90% of Americans and at higher levels in children then adults.

Maryland PIRG is joined by the Maryland League of Women Voters and Maryland Sierra Club in support of HB206.
Maryland PIRG is a statewide, non-partisan, non-profit, citizen-funded public interest advocacy organization with grassroots members across the state and a student funded, student directed chapter at the University of Maryland College Park. For forty years we’ve stood up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.

We would like to thank the members of this committee for your leadership in passing legislation to restrict toxic chemicals from consumer products, including bans on toxic flame retardants TCEP and TDCPP (part of the TRIS flame retardant family) in baby products. HB206 is an opportunity to extend this legacy and protect the health of children and families.

Why Flame Retardants:
Chemical flame retardants are found in many products in our home: toys, couches, electronics, and changing pads, for example. The Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention has identified flame retardant chemicals in the bodies of over 90% of Americans and at higher levels in children then adults.

The prevailing justification for why flame retardants have become so prevalent in consumer products is for safety. According to U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission these chemicals aren’t that effective against fires.  Moreover, they release toxic gases and fumes as they burn. This poses occupational health hazards to firefighters, who are consistently exposed to ambient gases released by burning materials.

Babies and children are more vulnerable than adults to exposure. They are exposed through direct contact with products containing the chemicals, and to chemicals which have seeped into the air and dust.

Because very little substantive evidence supports the advantages of decaBDE, HBCD, and TBBPA to our safety, they should be included in Maryland’s existing chemical flame retardant restriction.

In 2014, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Public Health – Child Care Products Containing Flame-Retardant Chemicals act in order to protect our smallest Marylanders from exposure to toxic chemicals. With strong bi-partisan support, the law restricts the use of flame retardants TCEP and TDCPP in child care products intended for those under the age of 3—toys, baby products, car seats, strollers, and other items that often contact young children.

HB206 consists of three updates:

  1. Include the flame-retardant chemicals decaBDE, HBCD, and TBBPA to the restriction;
  2. Include residential, upholstered furniture to the product prohibition;
  3. Extend the age range of protection from 3 to 12 years.

Because safer and more effective alternatives to chemical flame retardants are available, there is little justification for the continued sale and distribution of products containing these toxic chemicals. Minnesota and Washington State have already restricted these flame retardant chemicals, and many other states are moving towards similar restrictions.

Including decaBDE, HBCD, TBBPA:
DecaBDE, HBCD, and TBBPA are brominated flame retardants.  These flame retardant chemicals share similar properties with TCEP and TDCPP, which were restricted by the Maryland General Assembly in 2014 and have been identified as toxic by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  

Having been examined in epidemiological studies, brominated flame retardants have been strongly associated with widespread disruptive health outcomes, such as cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive and developmental effects, and lowered IQ.

  • HBCD: HBCD has been identified as toxic by the EPA after test results indicated reproductive, developmental, and neurological effects.
  • decBDE: An EPA study determined that there was enough evidence to suggest that decaBDE has carcinogenic potential in humans.  Tests suggest decaBDE also causes damage to thyroid and liver tissues.
  • TBBPA: TBBPA is currently being tested by the EPA and test results suggest risks of developmental effects from exposure to the chemical.  TBBPA may be associated with kidney toxicity, thyroid disruption, and fetal malformations.

The adverse health effects of adding flame retardant chemicals to consumer products overwhelmingly outweigh the effectiveness of the chemicals as flame retardants.

Including Residential, Upholstered Furniture:
The 2014 law prohibits the sale and distribution of child care products, like car seats and crib mattresses that include toxic flame retardants. Upholstered furniture should be included in the restriction. Babies and young children are at as much risk of exposure on a couch or chair as in car seat. Contact with furniture manufactured with toxic flame retardants is the same as contact with child care products. Itis dangerous and poses a risk to children. Minimizing exposure is best achieved by including residential, upholstered furniture to the restriction.

Expanding Age Range from 3 to 12 years:
Children are especially at risk for several reasons. First, children are more likely to ingest these harmful chemicals: they spend more time on the floor near dust and are more likely to put things in their mouths. In fact, it’s estimated that children ingest up to ten times more of these chemicals than adults due to their hand-to-mouth behaviors. 

Second, as their bodies are smaller and their metabolisms different, these persistent chemicals that are not readily excreted from the body, build up to higher levels and can cause greater harm.

Children are also at increased risk due to their developing brains. This rapid rate of change within the brain puts children in far great danger when exposed to toxins, affecting memory, learning, and even locomotor activity. The 2014 law established the upper age limit at 3 in order to protect newborns and infants from toxic flame retardants. The proposed expansion to 12 years has a logical appeal, because children do not stop developing at the age of 3, nor are their risks of exposure lessened. We should reduce exposure of toxic flame retardant chemicals in their environment.

Safer Alternatives:
Toxic chemicals in our furniture and children’s products are unnecessary to ensure fire safety. There is increasing evidence that these chemical flame retardants are not effective at preventing fires outside of controlled settings. There are alternatives to these toxic flame retardants and many major companies have already begun selling furniture without these toxic flame retardants. Some of the more common options include design alternatives like the use of barrier fabrics and inherently flame resistant fabrics.

Maryland PIRG supports HB 206, and requests a favorable report.


Emily Scarr

State Director, Maryland PIRG; Director, Stop Toxic PFAS Campaign, PIRG

Emily directs strategy, organizational development, research, communications and legislative advocacy for Maryland PIRG. Emily has helped win small donor public financing in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County, Montgomery County, and Prince George's County. She has played a key role in establishing new state laws to to protect public health by restricting the use of antibiotics on Maryland farms, require testing for lead in school drinking water and restrict the use of toxic flame retardant and PFAS chemicals. Emily also serves on the Executive Committees of the Maryland Fair Elections Coalition and the Maryland Campaign to Keep Antibiotics Working. Emily lives in Baltimore City with her husband, kids, and dog.

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