By Bob Katzen
The House approved and sent to the Senate legislation 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 December 31, 2021.
Violators would be fined up to $5,000 for a first offense, $25,000 for a second offense and up to $50,000 for a second and subsequent offenses. 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.
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.
Supporters said 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 noted they are also incorporated into electronic products and building insulation. They argued 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 noted that firefighters are exposed to flame retardants when they go into burning buildings.
“This is a testament to what happens when lawmakers follow science over the chemical industry’s propaganda,” said Rep. Marjory Decker (D-Cambridge), the sponsor of the bill, “Once again we have passed a bill to ban toxic flame retardants in children’s toys and furniture and hopefully this time, the governor will choose to stand with public health and families and firefighters. This truly speaks to our values here in Massachusetts.”
“In the last two years, numerous firefighters in Massachusetts have died from, and dozens have been diagnosed with, various forms of occupational cancer,” said Richard MacKinnon, President of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts. “This legislation is a direct result of the significant scientific data that has come to light over the last several years proving the link between flame retardant chemicals and cancer. More importantly, this legislation is a testament to the persistence and advocacy of lawmakers, public health advocates, environmental advocates and the firefighter community.”
“All the credible research shows that flame retardants are not needed to meet modern fire safety standards. In fact firefighters and others are endangered by toxic smoke during fires when products that contain these dangerous chemicals burn,” said Elizabeth Saunders, Clean Water Action’s Massachusetts Director. “This bill is way overdue.”
The Senate has approved a different version of the bill. The two branches will have to agree on a version before the measure is sent to Gov. Charlie Baker
In 2018, the House and Senate approved the bill on the last day of the legislative session, but Gov. Baker did not sign it. He said at the time that he would have returned it to the Legislature with an amendment if the Legislature had still been in session.
“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.”
“Last session, Gov. Baker refused to sign this bill, letting it die with a pocket veto,” Decker told Beacon Hill Roll Call. “Let’s hope that this year he stands with science, pediatricians, public health, firefighters and children.”
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.