The Problems with CPSC’s Actions
The CPSC’s own staff concluded that it is not appropriate to group all organohalogen flame retardants together, and that the CPSC could not make the determination that all of these chemicals were “hazardous substances.”
- As outlined in the CPSC staff report, the commission cannot, consistent with the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA), determine that all children’s products, upholstered furniture sold for use in residences, mattresses and the plastics casings surrounding electronics containing an additive, non-polymeric organohalogen flame retardant are “hazardous substances.”
- These flame retardants include a broad range of products with differing characteristics, structures and intended uses, so it is not appropriate to make broad conclusions or impose a one-size fits all regulatory approach on these substances.
The Impact on Businesses and Consumers
The CPSC has opted to further study this broad class of chemicals. This action is not a ban on additive, non-polymeric organohalogen flame retardants.
- The commissioners also voted to convene a panel of scientists to study the health and safety of these chemicals. The CPSC decision to further evaluate these chemicals is not a restriction or ban on additive, non-polymeric organohalogen flame retardants.
- It is worth noting that the commissioners were deeply divided on all of these issues, including the creation of the guidance document. As one commissioner voting against the guidance noted, any pronouncements about the safety of these chemicals should not be made before the CPSC-initiated study on their health and safety is complete.
The CPSC is also releasing a guidance document, which is non-binding and only represents the feelings of the three commissioners.
- The guidance being issued by the CPSC is not warranted by the science and is in direct conflict with the CPSC staff’s own review.
- The three commissioners who voted to move forward with these unnecessary actions failed to fully consider the health and safety studies that were provided to them, which support the fact that additive, non-polymeric organohalogen flame retardants can be used safely to help protect people from the devastation of fire.
- The three commissioners also ignored the science-based recommendation of their staff and went ahead with this unnecessary decision.
- While the guidance document discourages businesses and consumers from using additive non-polymeric organohalogen flame retardants in certain products, it is in no way a legal requirement or binding for businesses. Consumers and business should make their own determination based on the state of the science and product safety, including fire safety.
- Two of the CPSC commissioners voiced strong objections to publishing the guidance, noting that it is being published before a CPSC-initiated study on the chemicals has even begun and that it is in direct contradiction to recommendations from CPSC staff.
- Business leaders and consumers should understand that research supports that specific additive, non-polymeric organohalogen flame retardants can be used safely in specific applications to protect people from the threat of fire.
- Many of these flame retardants have unique properties that are hard or even impossible to replace. Removing these chemicals from products without proper replacements will increase the fire risk of some products.
As consumers and manufacturers consider any guidance issued by the CPSC, it is important that they consider the context for this guidance and carefully evaluate the overall safety of products. In particular, consumers and businesses should be aware of the fire safety properties of their products.
Only Three CPSC Commissioners Voted to Move Forward with These Actions
The three CPSC commissioners who voted to move forward with these actions appear to value one safety risk over another—without properly evaluating the science of these chemicals and whether this trade-off is warranted. The CPSC’s ongoing review of this issue must ensure that the fire safety of consumer products is not compromised.
- There are already a number of agencies charged with regulating chemicals, but CPSC is unique in its oversight of fire safety in consumer products.
- In fact, CPSC has recalled hundreds of various products over the last several years due to fire safety concerns.
- That is why it is so disheartening that the discussion around this issue has lacked almost any consideration of fire safety and how the petition could compromise the fire safety of consumer products.
- The CPSC’s ongoing evaluation of these substances and implementation of the CPSC guidance must fully consider the critical issue of fire safety and avoid compromising the fire safety of consumer products.
Regulatory Review of Flame Retardants
Additive, non-polymeric organohalogen flame retardants are already reviewed or subject to review by the U.S. EPA and other regulatory bodies around the world.
- Both new and existing chemicals are subject to review for their safety under the new comprehensive law, the Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act (LCSA), which enhances chemical regulation in the U.S.
- There is no reason CPSC commissioners, consumers or manufacturers should have to choose between chemical safety and fire safety, as they can have both.
The Benefits of Flame Retardants
While we have made great gains over the years, fires are still a real threat to life, and property and they need to be considered in the evaluation of product safety.
- The National Fire Protection Association reports that fire fighters responded to nearly 1.35 million fires in 2015, which resulted in 3,280 civilian fire fatalities, 15,700 civilian fire injuries and an estimated $14.3 billion in property loss.
- NFPA also reports that young children and people over 65 face the highest risk of fire death.
Flame retardants are an important fire safety tool that help save lives, reduce fires and limit property damage.
- Flame retardants have been shown to be effective in preventing fires or, if a fire does occur, slowing the fire’s progression, giving individuals and families extra time to escape from potentially dangerous fire situations and giving fire fighters more time to respond. This is vitally important, as our homes and offices have more flammable materials than they did 30 years ago.
- A variety of different chemicals, with different properties and structures, act as flame retardants. A variety of flame retardants is necessary because the materials that need to be made fire-resistant are very different in their physical nature and chemical composition, as are the end-use performance requirements of the final product.
- Additive, non-polymeric organohalogen flame retardants, which are the subject of CPSC’s guidance, are a group of chemicals that are used in a number of products to help prevent them from catching fire.
- The important role flame retardants play is recognized by fire scientists. In fact, 15 internationally recognized fire scientists released an open letter in 2015 asserting that research shows that flame retardants play an important role in fire safety. This video supports their claim.
- Studies show that these chemicals can be used safely, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies around the world already have regulatory oversight of these chemicals.