We must reduce the dangers of fire-retardant chemicals | Herald Community Newspapers

By Todd Kaminsky

Our brave firefighters risk their lives every day to keep our communities safe. The least we can do is protect them from dangerous, cancer-causing chemicals.

The same goes for our children. We must do everything we can to keep them healthy and promote their growth. Making sure they don’t come into contact with dangerous chemicals that can cause serious intellectual and developmental disabilities is a good idea.

That’s why I sponsored the Firefighter and Family Protection Act, a bill that would ban toxic flame retardants in mattresses, furniture and electronic enclosures in New York. Our first responders and children are just too valuable to sell to chemical companies.

The statistics are terrifying: A New York University study found that flame retardant exposure in children resulted in severe IQ loss over a 15-year period. Worse, according to Dr. Leonardo Trasande, the study’s lead researcher, once a child is exposed to these toxins, the damage is irreversible.

Flame retardants evaporate from products such as furniture and mattresses and attach themselves to dust participles. When children play on the floor — or simply breathe in their home — they are at risk of being exposed. That’s not a risk worth taking. We cannot gamble with the health of our children.

As if flame retardants weren’t toxic enough, these chemicals become even more dangerous during a fire, when they combine with other substances to produce potent compounds. They can seep into firefighters’ protective gear and into their respirators, putting our first responders at great risk of contracting cancer.

And the dangers of flame retardants to firefighters don’t end when they make their way out of burning buildings. These toxic chemicals stick to firefighters’ equipment and make their way back to their fire stations and homes with them, exponentially increasing the likelihood of exposure.

Cancer poses a serious threat to our firefighters, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all on-the-job deaths between 2002 and 2019. Firefighters have developed cancer at an alarming rate and are at a 14 percent greater risk of death than the general public. Studies have shown that firefighters have double the risk of developing mesothelioma than civilians. That’s why unions representing both volunteers and firefighters in New York City have endorsed my bill. Our firefighters are willing to risk their lives and are there for us day in and day out. It’s time we got theirs and took this small step to keep them safe.

Flame retardants are also harmful to our environment. Electronic disposal is one of the fastest growing waste problems in the world, growing 21 percent in just five years. When e-waste containing flame retardants is sent to landfill, incinerated or even recycled, there is a serious danger as these chemicals end up in our water and soil.

In addition, flame retardants do little to actually stop fires and prevent their spread. After conducting rigorous experiments, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission concluded that “fire-retardant foams did not offer a practically significantly higher level of open flame safety than the untreated foams.” There’s no good reason why these potentially cancer-causing chemicals should continue to be added to products in our state.

Corporate chemical manufacturers and their lobbyists have used questionable tactics — including making up quotes in news stories — in a brazen effort to protect their products at the expense of our children and first responders. This shows their desperation and the growing strength of our efforts.

My bill would ban the sale of furniture, mattresses, and electronic enclosures containing flame retardants. It would also prohibit custom upholsterers from adding retarders to existing products. By containing these likely carcinogens, we can make significant progress in protecting the health and safety of our children and firefighters.

Thirteen other states have already taken similar measures to protect their citizens, as has the European Union. It is time for us to act too. With just days to go in the legislative session in Albany, it is imperative that the legislature implement this critical bill to protect the health of our children and first responders. They deserve nothing less.

Todd Kaminsky represents New York’s 9th Senate District and chairs the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee.

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