California Professional Firefighters

FFs Make Case for Removing Toxins from Flame Retardants

Uniformed firefighters from Stockton and San Gabriel joined medical researchers, furniture manufacturers and environmental groups in calling for an end to the use of dangerous toxins in furniture.

Testifying at a legislative hearing Tuesday in Sacramento, firefighters told lawmakers that the chemicals used in furniture fire retardants do little to retard fires, but add significant cancer risk to first responders and burn victims.

Stockton firefighter Koy Wilson testifies on health risks to firefighters and burn victims of toxic flame retardants.

“There's no skin graft or physical repair for an upper airway burned out by toxic chemicals and contaminants,” said Koy Wilson, a Stockton firefighter representing the I.A.F.F. Burn Foundation. “Firefighters face a greater cancer risk because of the job that we do. These chemicals don't offer much fire protection -- they just add to the toxic exposure faced by firefighters and the citizens we serve.

The hearing of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials culminated years of effort led by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), with the support of CPF and IAFF. Outdated standards in California virtually require the use of highly toxic carcinogens in flame retardants -- chemicals that contribute not only to higher cancer rates among firefighters, but also have been linked to developmental problems for children and infertility in adults.

“As many as one out of every three firefighters may be diagnosed with cancer, and the evidence is overwhelming that they’re getting it on the job,” said San Gabriel Battalion Chief Bryan Frieders, speaking on behalf of the Firefighters Cancer Support Network. “I’m here to implore the Legislature and the governor to do what it takes to eliminate these toxins to protect not only the firefighters, but the citizens that we serve.

Watch the full committee hearing here

Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a directive to the state agency responsible for monitoring home furnishings in California calling for them to review and revise the current flammability standard, known as Technical Bulletin 117. At Tuesday's hearing, that agency -- the Bureau of Electronic Appliance Repair, Home Furnishing and Thermal Insulation -- announced that it is fast-tracking new regulations that will protect firefighters and burn victims from exposure to deadly toxic fire retardants.

Given the heat at which modern structure fires burn, the flame retardants offer little, if any, additional fire protection,” said Lou Paulson, President, California Professional Firefighters, “But they do contribute to the toxic haze that is released in a fire. These inhalants are the major causes of fire deaths and injuries, and they’ve been linked to higher cancer rates among firefighters. It’s critical that California move quickly to eliminate these chemicals from products.

A recent report in the Chicago Tribune documented deceptive practices used by chemical manufacturers to keep their toxic products on the market. IAFF has identified elimination of these cancer-causing toxins as "a step in the right direction" for improving the health and safety of firefighters and the public.

CPF is part of a broad-based coalition that also includes cancer researchers, consumer advocates and the scientific advocacy group Physicians for Social Responsibility.


Californians for Toxic-Free Fire Safety

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