Tag Archives: Californians for Fire Safety

A Clever Smokescreen on Flame Retardants and AB 706

(From the comments: Mom’s Rising is fighting for passage of AB 706. – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

So, I get this flyer (well, two actually) from some group that calls itself “Californians for Fire Safety.” Hmm, I say to myself, I wonder who they are, and why they mailed me this glossy flyer? The flyer opposes those nefarious boogymen, “Sacramento politicians” trying to pass AB 706, which:

will ban material used to make flame retardant products that help to prevent fires – and keep our homes and families safe

Immediately I get curious. What materials are these? Why would they be proposed for banning? What chemicals in particular are in question? Who makes them? Who is for this bill, and who is against? Who is funding this flyer?

I look again at the flyer, and get nothing.

So i start to get more curious. This flyer pushes two of my buttons right off the bat:

1. it doesn’t identify who is backing it, to the point of using images of firefighters but not featuring a firefighter endorsement.

2. Its images are emotional, featuring a little girl saved from a fire and a burning bed. Its intent is clearly to trigger my parental feelings of protection, but offers nothing specific to latch on to.

So i do  a bit of googling.

Upon searching the Californians for Fire Safety website, it turns out that they are founded by:

Albemarle Corp., Chemtura Corp., and IC-Ltd Industrial Products


Albemarle makes flame retardants. Chemtura makes flame retardants. I can’t find any web presence for IC-Ltf Industrial Products, but at this point I would be willing to bet that they make flame retardants.

I look up AB 706, and find out that it was introduced by Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). OK, so what does AB 706 actually ban?

Starting January 1, 2010, AB 706 would require (1) all seating,  bedding, and furniture products comply with specified requirements, including that they do not contain brominated fire retardants (BFRs) or chlorinated fire retardants (CFRs), as defined; (2) the bureau to modify its existing standards regarding specified bedding products sold or offered for sale in California to prohibit the use of BFRs and CFRs, among other things; (3) OEHHA to review, in a manner prescribed in the bill, human, animal, or environmental health risk assessments of a component or chemical used to meet fire retardant standards set by the bureau if specified conditions are met; and (4) OEHHA to report to the bureau of its conclusions and recommendations.

So why would anyone want to ban brominated or chlorinated fire retardants?

Well, for starters because organochlorides are pretty toxic chemicals, and tend to linger both in the environment and human bodies for a long time. DDT and dioxin were both in this family of chemicals. From the text of the bill itself:

(d)  Some  fire retardants migrate in air, soil, or water, and accumulate in people’s bodies and the
environment. For example, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are a subcategory of BFRs, have increased more than forty-fold in human breast milk in America since the  1970s. Women in North America on average have 10 times the levels of women in Europe or Asia. PBDEs have  the potential to disrupt thyroid hormone balance and contribute to a variety of developmental deficits, including low intelligence and learning disabilities. PBDEs are structurally similar to dioxin, furans, and polybrominated biphenyls which are known to cause cancer.

(e)  According to an American Public Health Association Consensus Resolution, virtually all organochlorides that have been
studied exhibit one or more serious toxic effects, including endocrine dysfunction, developmental impairment, birth defects,
reproductive dysfunction, immunosuppression, and cancer, often at extremely low doses. Organobromides are known to exhibit similar effects, and the American Public Health Association has resolved that the organobromides known as PBDEs should be phased out of all products.


(h)  According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infants and children are particularly prone to absorb BFRs and CFRs through direct physical or oral contact with these compounds in furniture, inhalation of furniture dust containing BFRs and CFRs, and via ingestion of these substances from their mothers’ milk and from their diets.

(i)  Rates of pediatric health problems, such as leukemia and brain cancer in children, testicular cancer in adolescents, birth defects, and neurodevelopmental disorders, including, but not limited to, dyslexia, mental retardation, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism, are steadily rising. 

(j) Over the last 30 years, there have been hundreds of scientific journal articles and reviews citing these and other negative health impacts resulting from exposure to brominated  and chlorinated fire retardants.

Well, that certainly puts that picture of the smiling baby girl on their glossy literature in a somewhat different light, now doesn’t it?

And then in addition, when I go back to check out the original website for the Albemarle Corp., Chemtura Corp., and IC-Ltd Industrial Products “Californians for Fire Safety’s” side of things, it admits that firefighters have come out in support of the bill, because of concerns about flame retardant-related chemicals leading to higher rates of cancer in firefighters, but then assure them that:

Numerous studies document that the significant risks to firefighters come mainly from the fire itself, and then from smoke containing toxic byproducts, principally carbon monoxide and cancer-causing polyaromatic hydrocarbons. No studies show or suggest that the presence of flame retardants in a fire situation increases risk to firefighters.

Hmm. Someone’s lying here, and my guess is that it’s the people with a financial stake in selling these chemicals.

From what I can gather, this whole mailing campaign is basically a couple of chemical corporations who produce a chemical toxic to children in particular, using the image of a child to fight a bill that would restrict the sale of said chemical.

And there you have it. When someone stuffs your mailbox with emotional arguments, images of children in danger and vague but pleasant sounding organizations, take a step back and be a bit skeptical.

originally at surf putah