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Capital Region News

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer Pushes Bill Banning Top Ten Toxic Flame Retardants

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Patrick Garrett
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According to a new study led by University at Albany researcher Dr. Susan Shaw, flame retardants found in household furniture, children’s toys and pillows are highly carcinogenic. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer was in Albany yesterday to push a new bill banning the 10 most toxic flame retardants.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer spoke Monday at an Albany firehouse to discuss the Children and Firefighter Protection Act. The Democrat said the flame retardants not only harm children but firefighters who breathe in the smoke as well.

“They’ve been linked not only to cancer but also to endocrine disruption – it’s a nightmare scenario all too real,” Schumer said. “Children being exposed to highly toxic flame retardants by just lying on a changing table in their cribs or sitting on the family couch and firefighters being exposed at an alarming rate as the toxins go airborne as furniture containing these chemicals burn.”

Schumer says the cancer-causing chemicals showed raised levels of the toxic substance in children by up to 23 times compared to their mothers’ exposure levels. He says the flame retardants aren’t a meaningful deterrent to fires and don’t outweigh the public health cost.

“We’ve learned that they contain carcinogens, cancer producing chemicals; they hurt our kids when they are surrounded by them when it’s in their pajamas, their toys, their mattresses,” said Schumer. “And then, God forbid there’s a fire, these carcinogens get into the air furniture and these other toys burn and they can get into the lungs of our firefighters and hurt them.”

Schumer was joined by Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, a fellow Democrat who emphasized the increased hazard to firefighters and students living on campus. Joined by concerned mother Bobbi Chase Wilding, Sheehan noted that the chemicals in the products aren’t often obvious.

...Finding products that are safe for your children is impossible because they are not on the labels... and when you have children who are constantly putting things in their mouth that as a parent, this is really important legislation...

“Finding products that are safe for your children is impossible because they are not on the labels, you don’t know, and when you have children who are constantly putting things in their mouth that as a parent, this is really important legislation,” Sheehan said.

UAlbany professor Dr. Susan Shaw of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences in the School of Public Health is the lead researcher on last year’s study. She said that cancer is the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths among firefighters today. Her study showed that the blood of California firefighters contains high levels of toxic flame retardants and their cancer-causing by-products that are released when furniture, plastics and other household materials burn during fires.

A series of in-depth studies by the Chicago Tribune found that the chemicals often escape from household products and can settle in dust around the house.

Dennis Sweeney from the NYS Professional Firefighters Association said firefighters have a higher risk of contracting cancer than the general population.

“From the International Association of Firefighters August convention of 2012 to the July convention of 2014, 300 members of our members died,” said Sweeney. “Fifty-two percent of those deaths can be attributed to cancer.”

Executive Director of Clean and Healthy New York and coordinator of the Alliance for Toxic Free Fire Safety Kathy Curtis says there are many other alternate methods to ensure fire safety and prevention. Curtis cited fire sprinklers, smoke detectors, and better building construction.

“You have to look at who benefits. Who benefits from every single living room in the entire country having pounds of cancer causing chemicals that continually come off of the products they’re in and expose every member of the household,” said Curtis.

She said the chemical industry was “externalizing their costs onto every other sector of the economy.”

The bill would give the Consumer Product Safety Commission additional authority and require it to convene a panel to review the safety of all other chemical flame retardants and issue a ban on ones that are found to be dangerous.

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