Today, U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) led a group of 23 Senators in calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to evaluate whether flame retardant chemicals found in everyday household products put Americans' health at risk.
"These studies demonstrate that Americans, and particularly children, continue to be exposed to toxic flame retardant chemicals on a daily basis in their homes," the Senators wrote. "This is a serious public health concern that requires a risk assessment by EPA."
Recent studies have found toxic flame retardant chemicals in a number of everyday household products, such as furniture, electronics, and even children's products. Most recently, a study released yesterday by the Center for Environmental Health found these chemicals-- including Chlorinated tris, which was banned from children's pajamas in the 1970s--in children's nap mats, meaning the toxin is present in daycares and homes across the country.
Scientific research has shown that flame retardant chemicals are toxic and are linked to cancer, as well as various neurological and developmental diseases. While these chemicals are purported to make products more flame resistant, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has found that they do not provide any significant protection against the risk of fires in most cases.
Senator Lautenberg is the leader in Congress to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and provide the EPA with the authority to protect Americans from harmful chemicals, such as flame retardants. Lautenberg plans to reintroduce TSCA reform legislation in the coming weeks. Lautenberg has been working to reform TSCA since 2005, and his Safe Chemicals Act was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee last year.
In addition to Senator Lautenberg, the letter to EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe was signed by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jon Tester (D-MT), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Al Franken (D-MN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), William "Mo" Cowan (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Max Baucus (D-MT), SheldonWhitehouse (D-RI), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).
February 20, 2013
Dear Acting Administrator Perciasepe:
We are writing to urge the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to prioritize and conduct risk assessments on additional flame retardant chemicals that present a hazard to human health and are not currently being phased out of production. These flame retardants are used in large volumes across a wide range of consumer products, including furniture, electronics, and baby products. Recent peer-reviewed research has only heightened existing scientific concerns that these chemicals pose a serious risk to human health and the environment. As a result, EPA's risk assessments would provide critical information to the public and Congress regarding this class of chemicals.
Flame retardants are mixed into a number of household products in order to raise the temperature at which they begin to burn, purportedly making the products more flame resistant. However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has found that in many cases these chemicals do not provide any significant protection against the risk of fires.
Instead, a growing body of scientific research has found that flame retardant chemicals are toxic, persist in our environment, and accumulate in our bodies. Specifically, the EPA and other authoritative scientific bodies have found that some of these chemicals are linked to cancer as well as serious neurological and reproductive diseases.
It is particularly concerning that peer-reviewed research shows that a typical American baby is born with the highest recorded blood concentrations of flame retardants among infants in the world. Children are exposed to flame retardants primarily through household dust, making babies and toddlers particularly vulnerable since they spend a significant amount of time playing on the floor.
Two recent peer-reviewed studies heighten existing concerns surrounding flame retardants. The first (Stapleton et al., 2012) examined more than 100 samples of polyurethane foam taken from couches that have been in use in the U.S. over the past 25 years. Nearly all of the samples contained flame retardant chemicals. The second study (Dodson et al., 2012) found 41 chemicals of concern in dust samples taken from homes in California, including Chlorinated Tris, a carcinogenic flame retardant banned from children's pajamas in the 1970s.
These studies demonstrate that Americans, and particularly children, continue to be exposed to toxic flame retardant chemicals on a daily basis in their homes. This is a serious public health concern that requires a risk assessment by EPA.
We applaud the actions EPA has taken already to address individual flame retardants and small groups of structurally-related flame retardants. Despite these efforts, there are still a number of flame retardant chemicals in widespread use that are not scheduled for risk assessment or other action by EPA. In addition, the agency continues to be limited by its lack of authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to adequately protect Americans' health from dangerous chemicals. It is striking that, even if the agency determines that a chemical substance poses a risk to public health, its options for managing and mitigating that risk are severely constrained.
We urge the agency to use all of its available tools to evaluate the risks associated with flame retardant chemicals, while continuing to work with Congress to modernize and reform TSCA. We look forward to continuing to work together to protect American families from toxic chemicals.