Eight California Senators Obstruct Opportunity to Reduce Toxic Chemical Exposure

Legislators Side with Bromine Chemical Industry over California Firefighters, Physicians, and Businesses

Tuesday, May 03, 2011
CONTACT: Stephenie Hendricks 415-258-9151, Ana Mascareñas 323-743-3241

SACRAMENTO– Last night, eight California State Senators, charged with supporting business, jobs and economic development for California voted against a measure that would provide green business opportunities and improve fire safety for the state as well as curb global exposure to illness-causing chemicals.

Senate Business and Professions Committee Senators – Curren Price, D-Inglewood; Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet; Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana; Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina; Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino; Juan Vargas, D-San Diego; Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel; and Mark Wyland, R-Solana Beach – voted down SB 1­­47, a bill that would allow manufacturers to meet consumer demand for fire safe and chemical-free furniture and baby products intended for sale in California. It would modernize obsolete California regulation, TB 117, that, de facto, forces manufacturers to put toxic flame retardant chemicals in foam for products made for sale in California.

“Every single life is valuable, and no one should fall victim to fire injury or death. Firefighters can protect the lives of others and their own life better if this law is passed,” says Tony Stefani, cancer survivor and founder and current President of the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation, and retired Captain of the San Francisco Fire Department.

According to Vyto Babrauskas, the author of Fire Science Applications to Fire Investigations, the only textbook ever written on furniture flammability, TB117, is “so weak that it does not achieve any useful fire safety purpose. Consequently, a changed standard should be more effective, as it could not possibly be any less effective”.

During a hearing last week, when the measure was first brought for a vote and the same eight Senators voted it down, they ignored the support and testimony from nearly 50 organizations including California firefighters, University of California scientists, the College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, furniture and foam manufacturers, environmental groups, and many others. At the April 25 hearing, opposition to the bill was represented by Citizens for Fire Safety, a front group created by public relations firm Burson Marsteller, for the bromine chemical companies, Albermarle, Chemtura and Israeli Chemicals Ltd. None of these companies are California based. All stand to profit greatly from keeping the outdated and ineffective TB 117 locked in its current form, which makes it a de facto requirement for “impregnating” furniture foam with toxic flame retardant chemicals.

Denise Lamb of Black Women for Wellness, who has been working for over 15 years to promote healthy lifestyle, HIV prevention, and wellness in the African American community, testified at the hearing: “We’re constantly talking about the educational achievement gap in our kids, and yet current law encourages the use of chemicals like flame retardants that are linked to lowered IQ and developmental disorders. And from studies, we know that California African-American and Latina girls have higher levels of these chemicals than girls from other states. California children have among the highest rates in the world. We deserve the right to protect our families from fire and from toxic chemicals.”

Testifying in opposition was one Sacramento lobbyist, a chemist from Florida, and one burn doctor from Washington state—the same people the bromine industry has employed for years to defend outdated and ineffective flammability standards, and who were paid for time and travel to defend California’s outdated, and therefore ineffective, TB 117.

“Opposition to this bill was created by the same political operative who once worked at the Tobacco Institute.” said Andrew McGuire, Executive Director of the Trauma Foundation at San Francisco General Hospital who was badly burned as a child and mounted a 15 year campaign for fire safe cigarettes and fire safety. “Well-trained hired guns are running this chemical industry campaign, and our legislators need to do a better job of watching out for the interests of their real constituents.”

The national Consumer Products Safety Commission and other states have rejected CA’s current flammability standard because of the lack its lack of fire safety benefit and the serious health and environmental hazard it causes. Rather than weakening the current standard, SB 147 would modernize and strengthen it.

Research demonstrates that not only do these halogenated flame retardant chemicals not improve fire safety, but their presence makes fires more dangerous for fire victims, firefighters, and communities by increasing soot, smoke, and toxic chemicals such as carbon monoxide.

“It is unconscionable that these legislators are ignoring the myriad of scientific studies linking flame retardants chemicals to the rising rates of illnesses we are seeing today – learning disabilities and lowered IQ, reproductive effects including undescended testicles, decreased sperm quality, infertility – and even cancer,” says Martha Dina Argüello, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles (PSR-LA). “These legislators have a responsibility to us, their constituents, not to chemical industry front groups.”

SB 147 would have simply enabled manufacturers choose to maintain or increase fire safety and stop using toxic chemicals. The bill does not ban any chemicals. Why would these legislators take the word of the chemical industry rather than scientists, doctors, and firefighters?

SB 147 would protect the interests of Californians, rather than those of three chemical companies from outside the state who are profiting greatly at the expense of our health, environment, and business opportunities.

Supporters of SB 147 include

Businesses, Manufacturers, Designers

  • American Home Furnishings Alliance
  • Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, Northern CA
  • Healthy Building Network
  • Herman Miller Furniture
  • Polyurethane Foam Association
  • Trendway Furniture

Firefighters and Fire Safety Advocates

  • California Professional Firefighters
  • International Association of Fire Fighters
  • Stentorians of Los Angeles County
  • San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation
  • Fire Science and Technology Inc.

Faith, Labor, and Environmental Justice Groups

  • Canon for the Environment, Episcopal Diocese of California
  • Eastyard Communities for Environmental Justice
  • Just Transition Alliance
  • Los Angeles Metro Churches

Health, Consumer and Environmental Groups

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, District IX
  • As You Sow Foundation
  • Bananas Child Care Information and Referral and Parent
  • Support
  • Breast Cancer Action
  • Breast Cancer Fund
  • Black Women for Wellness
  • Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy
  • Center for Environmental Health
  • Clean Water Action
  • Commonweal
  • Consumer Federation of California
  • Ecology Center
  • Environment CA
  • Environmental Working Group
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Health Officers Association of California
  • Healthy Child
  • MOMS (Moms Making Our Milk Safe)
  • Moms Rising
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Physicians for Social Responsibility, Los Angeles
  • Physicians for Social Responsibility, San Francisco
  • San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
  • SF Baykeeper
  • Sierra Club, CA
  • Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
  • Trauma Foundation
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