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Calif. takes on controversial flame retardant chemical; issuing a de-facto death sentence for chlorinated Tris

Consumer products program positions Calif. as a leader in nationwide movement for safer chemicals

For Immediate Release: Thursday, March 13, 2014
Contact: Margie Kelly, 541-222-9699, mkelly@breastcancerfund.org

SAN FRANCISCO—Solidifying its national leadership to halt the use of a highly toxic flame retardant chemical linked to cancer and other serious health effects, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration issued new rules requiring the evaluation of the safety of TDCPP (chlorinated Tris) and its alternatives used in children’s sleep products sold in the state.

Calif.’s Safer Consumer Products Program targeted the flame retardant chemical TDCPP, found in children’s foam padded sleeping products, as well as methyl chloride in paint stripper and diisocyanates in spray polyurethane foam systems. Manufacturers will have to conduct an alternatives assessment to determine whether safer alternatives can be used to replace these three chemicals, which are widely accepted to be associated with serious health hazards. As the world’s ninth largest economy, this move by Calif. is likely to push manufacturers to stop using these chemicals, effectively shifting the massive flame retardant, building insulation and paint thinner marketplaces to safer chemical and non-chemical alternatives.

“Today the state of Calif. issued a brilliant one-two punch combination against a highly toxic flame retardant used in baby mattresses, nursing pillows, nap mats, and more,” said Janet Nudelman, director of program and policy for the Breast Cancer Fund. “Kudos to California for taking action against the widespread use of this toxic chemical linked to cancer, neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity and other adverse health effects and for using its power to push the market toward safer alternatives.”

Today’s action bookends the state of Calif.’s first blow against flame retardants taken in 2013, when Gov. Brown overturned Calif.’s TB 117, which required the use of toxic flame retardants in furniture. For years, the chemical industry had thwarted attempts by environmental health advocates, firefighters, and the California legislature to more strictly regulate toxic flame retardants. Under today’s order, the Brown Administration ensured the reversal of TB117 will be implemented in a meaningful and health-protective way by empowering the Department of Toxic Substances Control to assess the safety and eventually regulate the use of chlorinated Tris going forward.

The Calif. Safer Consumer Products program is poised to serve as a model for the nation because the federal government, and a recently circulated TSCA reform proposal aren’t  addressing the safety of industrial chemicals in the full range of products that are exposing consumers to hazardous chemicals.

The U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on March 12, 2014 on a bill purporting to “modernize” federal chemical laws that would strip states of the right to adopt and implement chemicals management programs such as Calif.’s Safer Consumer Products Program. Preempting state-based legislation is the price industry hopes to extract from Congress, in return for agreeing to new chemical regulations to replace the weak, nearly 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which all stakeholders agree is a failure.

“I risk my life every day to save others, and I do it gladly, but as I watch more and more of my colleagues in the fire department get cancer diagnoses, it’s crucial that our elected officials do everything they can to protect us from the toxic chemicals linked to cancer,” said Lt. Heather Buren of the San Francisco Fire Department who is also president of the United Fire Service Women. “So far our federal government has failed to act, so we are pleased that the state of California is stepping in to make real change.”

The movement to safeguard  chemicals in consumer products by the states, major manufacturers and some major retail chains is exploding, and Congress and the chemical industry have taken note. A whopping 33 states introduced legislation to more strictly regulate chemicals this year, retail giants Walmart and Target are developing “retail regulations” to ensure the safety of the consumer products they sell, and the world’s largest manufacturers including Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble have eliminated some toxic chemicals from products like baby shampoo, lotions, and soaps 

Mandated by two laws passed in 2008, Calif.’s Safer Consumer Products program was empowered to identify hazardous chemicals used in everyday products that have been linked to cancer, reproductive harm, endocrine disruption, developmental harm, environmental damage and other hazards; prioritize key chemicals; and require manufacturers using these chemicals to evaluate the safety of alternatives. Upon completion of a state-mandated alternatives assessment,  DTSC will issue a regulatory response that could include banning or restricting the use of the priority chemicals or any of their potential alternatives.

The Breast Cancer Fund and its allies in the statewide CHANGE (Californians For a Healthy and Green Economy) coalition worked for six years to ensure that the program was established according to the intent of the law. They will continue to watchdog the program, especially how it protects the most vulnerable among us including pregnant women, workers and fenceline communities.

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The Breast Cancer Fund is the leading national organization working to prevent breast cancer by eliminating our exposures to toxic chemicals and radiation linked to the disease.