By Bob Katzen
The Senate 38-0, approved and sent to the House bill that would ban 11 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 August 31, 2020. Another provision requires the Department of Environmental Protection to review, at least every three years, chemical flame retardants used in these type of 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, and up to $5,000 for a second and subsequent offense.
Motor vehicles, watercraft, aircraft, all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles and electronic devices 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 2018 legislative session, but Gov. 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.
“For decades these flame-retardant chemicals have been harming our children and firefighters and we now know that we don’t need them for fire safety,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton). “It’s time we put health first. This is not a choice between fire safety and public health—with this bill, we can have both.”
“The science is clear,” said Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge). “Flame retardant chemicals are linked to cancer, developmental problems for young children and negative behavioral health outcomes. We also know that these same chemicals only make fires more deadly.”
No senators voted against the bill. But 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.