Mr. Gowda Goes to Annapolis (to garner support for toxic flame retardants bill)

By Dev Gowda
Director, Campaign for Toxic-Free Products

This week, I expanded on my usual job of getting personal care product companies to remove toxic chemicals from their products by working to get other toxic products away from consumers. I traveled to Annapolis, MD to support Maryland PIRG’s efforts to pass a bill to ban certain toxic flame retardant chemicals from children’s products. I was filling in for Maryland PIRG’s State Director Emily Scarr, who is currently on maternity leave (welcome to the world, baby Sadie!). I was warmly greeted by the staff in the State House, and got lots of recommendations about local food choices when they found out I was visiting from Chicago.

I decided to travel personally to Maryland because this bill is so important. Chemical flame retardants are found in many products in our homes: like toys, couches, changing pads and car seats. These chemicals can escape into the air and dust and then enter our bodies. Flame retardant-treated foam in furniture and baby products release more readily into the environment than in other materials.

Babies and young children are more vulnerable than adults to exposure to toxic flame retardants. Commonly used chemical flame retardants are linked to cancer, lower IQ and poor attention in children, hormone disruption, thyroid effects, and obesity.

Flame retardants also pose a hazard to first responders. Firefighters are more likely to be afflicted with some forms of cancer, and that increased incidence may be due to chemical exposures on the job. Building materials and home furnishings now include many synthetic materials, from PVC and other plastics to polyurethane foam, as well as the flame retardants used in these materials.  Toxic chemicals are released from these materials during fires, and the protective equipment firefighters use does not completely protect them from toxic exposures. 56% of all career firefighter line-of-duty deaths in 2013 were from job-related cancers.

The worst thing of all is that we don’t even need to use this stuff. There are safer alternatives available and on the market.

Maryland has already banned 2 flame retardants and this new bill would add 3 more flame retardants (DecaBDE, HBCD, and Additive TBBPA) to the list, and expand child care protection age range from 3 to 12 years.

Over the three days I was in Annapolis, I met with 12 Delegates and staff members who are in the Health and Government Operations Committee to get their support for the bill since it currently sits in their committee. I also met with the leader of the House firefighter caucus to get their support for the bill.

Special thanks to Delegates Bonnie Cullison, Karen Lewis-Young, Andrew Platt, Marice Morales, Samuel Rosenberg, and Joseline Pena-Melnyk for agreeing to co-sponsor the bill!

The risks far outweigh the benefits of using these products due to the high level of toxicity. There are safer alternatives available, so it is time to phase out these chemical flame retardants. Minnesota and Washington State have already restricted these toxic chemicals and it’s time for Maryland and other states to eliminate these chemicals to protect our children and first responders.

We’ll keep you posted on the status of this bill and I look forward to visiting Maryland again soon! And the Maryland crab cake from Galway Bay Irish Restaurant was great. Thanks to the senior staff member of the Health Committee Chair’s office for the recommendation!

U.S. PIRG Toxics Program Advocate Dev Gowda with Maryland House Bill 84 lead sponsor, Delegate Angela Angel.


Crab cakes from Galway Bay Irish Restaurant, Annapolis

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