By Bob Katzen
The Committee on Public Health has recommended passage of a bill that would ban 10 toxic flame retardants from children’s products, bedding, carpeting and residential upholstered furniture sold or manufactured in Massachusetts, except for inventory already manufactured prior to June 1, 2020. Another provision requires the Department of Environmental Protection to review, at least every three years, chemical flame retardants used in these products and include them on the list of prohibited chemical flame retardants that are documented to pose a health risk. Violators would be fined up to $1,000 for a first offense, up to $5,000 for a second offense and up to $50,000 for a third and each subsequent offense.
Motor vehicles, watercraft, aircraft, all-terrain vehicles and off-highway motorcycles are exempt from this law as are any previously owned products that contain a retardant.
The House and Senate approved the bill at the end of last year’s legislative session, but Gov. Charlie Baker did not sign it. “Massachusetts can be a leader in this area, but the specifics of the bill that emerged during the last hours of the legislative session limit its potential effectiveness,” Baker wrote to legislators. “A deliberative process involving all stakeholders and an implementation schedule that takes into account the realities of manufacturing and distribution practices are key components to any legislation. I look forward to working with the bill sponsors and stakeholders on a revised form of this legislation in the  session.”
Supporters say that since 1975, manufacturers have added chemical flame retardants to a wide array of household items including products with polyurethane foam, such as sofas, car seats, strollers and nap mats. They are also incorporated into electronic products and building insulation.
They argue that the retardants, while well-intentioned, do more harm than good and have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, fertility problems, neurological disorders and other major health concerns. They note that firefighters are exposed to flame retardants when they go into burning buildings.
“Now that the bill has once again had a very well-attended hearing and been released favorably with no changes by the Joint Committee, we are ready to take this bill all the way to enactment,” said the bill’s Senate sponsor Sen. Cindy Creem (D-Newton). “We must protect the public, including children and firefighters, by banning these dangerous chemicals from products in our homes.”
Representatives of chemical and electronics companies, makers of children’s products and mattresses testified against the bill when it had a hearing in May.
Ryan Trainer, president of the International Sleep Products Association, said that banning one specific chemical—antimony trioxide—would limit mattress manufacturers’ ability to meet federal flammability standards. He said that if the bill passed, it could force the redesign of many mattress styles, which would raise prices for consumers and businesses.
Dan Moyer from the Consumer Technology Association said other states exempt consumer electronics from the ban, but this version does not. He noted some of the banned chemicals are needed for circuit boards and other electronic parts that carry currents or are near parts that carry currents. He said other states exempt consumer electronics and that while such an exemption was in last session’s bill, it is not this year.
“I continue to be very appreciative of my House colleagues and leadership, including Chair Mahoney and Speaker DeLeo, who have continued to choose the side of science, public health and the lives of firefighters and children,” said the bill’s House sponsor Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge).
“If this bill was a library book, the overdue bill would be astronomical,” said Janet Domenitz, executive director of MASSPIRG. “It’s well past time to enact this law which will protect our health, our safety, and our first responders.”