A Prescription for Toxic-Free Fire Safety

For decades, toxic and untested flame retardant chemicals have been added to our furniture and baby products, but they haven’t worked to protect us from fires as promised.  Why? An obscure 1970s California regulation is a de facto national mandate to add these chemicals, which are linked to lower IQs in children, reduced fertility, cancer, and other adverse health effects, and have become global contaminants. Right now, California has an opportunity to fix this problem and take a critical step towards toxic-free fire safety, and the deadline is March 26th!

Take action now to demand improved fire safety and immediate protection from toxic chemicals.


Furniture, baby products, and many other products contain flame retardant chemicals as a result of an outdated California state rule called TB 117. Some of these chemicals have been banned, but they still show up in our homes, environment, workplaces, and in our bodies. In California, children carry flame retardant chemicals in their bodies at concentrations amongst the highest in the world. These chemicals do not prevent fires as promised, and in some cases can actually make fires more deadly by increasing smoke and toxic gases, which are the major causes of fire deaths and injuries.

PSR-LA is a key leader in a diverse coalition of health advocates, firefighters, scientists, businesses and manufacturers, environmentalists, and fire safety experts to come together in support of updating this regulation, to protect our health, environment, and encourage health products and business in California. Now, California regulators have proposed a revision to TB 117, called TB 117-2013 to provide improved fire safety without relying on flame retardants.

As health professionals, we see the rise in diseases associated with toxic chemical exposure. It is our responsibility to speak out and prevent these exposures whenever possible.  A landmark scientific consensus statement, signed by more than 200 scientists in over 30 countries, highlights their health and environmental harm of flame retardant chemicals. Flame retardants continuously migrate out of furniture into dust, and are ingested by humans, pets, and wildlife. Levels of these chemicals have increased 40-fold in human breast milk since the 1970s and California children have among the highest levels recorded. These chemicals do not belong in our bodies.

Communities of color already bear a disproportionate burden of toxic chemicals in their homes, workplaces, and neighborhoods, and studies show flame retardant chemicals contribute to this disparity. Those with lower income, and especially children, have high levels of toxic flame retardant chemicals in their bodies compared to those in more wealthy households.i

Babies are born with flame retardants in their bodies because these chemicals cross the placenta2. Children’s behavior, such as crawling and hand-to-mouth activity means that they face even greater exposure. Consequently, young children have three times the levels of flame retardant chemicals in their bodies compared to their mothers3. Flame retardants are also increasing in our food supply, and contaminate soil, wastewater, rivers, the ocean, fish, and marine mammals4.

Unfortunately, we expect that the flame retardant chemical industry will do everything they can to fight this common-sense change. Last year, the Chicago Tribune published a searing four-part series on flame retardants, illustrating the deceptive tactics the chemical industry uses to keep their toxic products on the market, and their close ties to the tobacco industry. The series describes a well-resourced campaign of dishonesty, manipulated scientific findings, and a phony watchdog group that misrepresented itself.

Your voice is critical in this rule change processWe need to show state regulators and Governor Brown that Californians support a modern, scientific standard that puts our children’s and families’ health first.The proposed updated flammability standard, TB117-2013, gives companies better ways to provide fire safety – without the use of harmful flame retardant chemicals. The public comment period ends on Tuesday, March 26th. 

Please take action today!  If you have any questions, please contact Ana Mascareñas, Policy & Communications Director, at (213) 689-9170, [email protected]

Photos: (top) PSR-LA member Dr. Shilpa Sayana. Photo by Eric Coleman. (middle) Photo by Francisco Cortinas.

1. Stapleton HM, Eagle S, Sjödin A, Webster TF. Serum PBDEs in a North Carolina Toddler Cohort: Associations with Handwipes, House Dust, and Socioeconomic Variables. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2012 May 23;120(7).

2.  Antignac J-P, Cariou R, Maume D, Marchand P, Monteau F, Zalko D, et al. Exposure assessment of fetus and newborn to brominated flame retardants in France: preliminary data. Molecular nutrition & food research. 2008 Feb;52(2):258–65.

3. Lunder S, Hovander L, Athanassiadis I, Bergman A. Significantly higher polybrominated diphenyl ether levels in young U.S. children than in their mothers. Environmental science & technology. 2010 Jul 1;44(13):5256–62.

4. Hites RA. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers in the environment and in people: a meta-analysis of concentrations. Environmental science & technology. 2004 Feb 15;38(4):945–56.

Add a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment