By: Kevin Oklobzija//April 30, 2021
By: Kevin Oklobzija//April 30, 2021//
New York lawmakers are considering bills that would ban the sale of furniture and electronics containing flame retardant chemicals, and a coalition of manufacturers and business owners recently expressed opposition in a letter to legislators.
Various industry associations signed the letter, which featured a collage of logos, including those of the American Chemistry Council, American Foam Association and The Business Council.
There was, however, no mention from the folks who fight fires. While manufacturers and businesses are lobbying against the bills currently in committee for both the New York Senate and Assembly, the Fireman’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) is in favor of passage.
Manufacturers argue that consumers are protected by the fire retardant chemicals used in the making of sofas, mattresses and a host of other everyday household items.
The coalition representing opponents of the bills said in its letter that “without the use of flame retardants, the danger of fire spreading quickly in densely populated housing communities would increase.”
The group also said “flame retardants can provide an important layer of fire protection by stopping or delaying the onset or spread of fires, and they can provide occupants of a home or building additional lifesaving time to escape a fire.”
Firefighters, however, say the chemicals don’t prevent or reduce fire risk and are made with cancer-causing products.
“They really don’t work, they really don’t stop furniture and couches from catching on fire, but they do cause cancer,” said John D’Alessandro, secretary for the FASNY. “Even just sitting on furniture with these chemicals, there are causative links to cancer, especially for children. And when they burn, they release tremendous amounts of carcinogens.”
The fire retardants became popular and/or required in the mid-1970s, with consumer safety at the forefront. D’Alessandro said health experts and researchers now know a whole lot more about chemicals than they did 45 years ago.
“The little bit of benefit we once thought these chemicals provided is far outweighed by the dangers they create,” he said. “For the extremely little bit of flame retardant fire protection they provide, the risk is not worth it. Everything we do is based on risk assessment. We attack an emergency situation with probable risk and data information. The risk with these carcinogens far outweighs the benefit.”
New York’s proposed law would prohibit the sale of any upholstered furniture, mattress or electronic item that uses a halogenated, organophosphorus, organonitrogen or nanoscale chemical in the manufacturing process. The law also would prohibit the use of such products in the reupholstering of furniture or the repair of electronic devices.
“I can’t debate the scientific formulations but the chemicals are there for a reason, they’re there to reduce the likelihood of fire,” said Ken Pokalsky, vice president of government affairs for The Business Council of New York. “They’re not being used on a whim.”
Massachusetts passed similar legislation in January. Maryland did so last year. Maine, New Hampshire and Washington have similar but less comprehensive laws.
That so many states have different sets of rules is one reason business coalitions object to more states imposing chemical bans. They would prefer to leave it up to the federal government to set a national standard.
Pokalsky said that different laws in different states will lead to supply-chain disruption and delays, and ultimately will be noticed by consumers.
“It probably means reduced product availability and higher costs,” he said.
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