Good News: US Consumer Product Safety Commission Votes to Warn Public About Halogenated Flame Retardants

It is not every day that there is good regulatory news but on September 20, 2017, in a major victory for consumer advocates, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took bold action to reduce the exposure of the general public, especially children, to organo-halogen flame retardants. This is the first time a federal agency is moving to outlaw an entire class of toxic flame retardants.  More specifically, the Commission’s staff was directed to “begin the rulemaking process to ban the sale of four categories of consumer products if they contain any organohalogen flame retardant.  The CPSC voted to issue a strongly worded guidance warning the public of the hazards posed by this class of flame retardants in children’s products, mattresses, electronic casings and furniture. Additionally, the CPSC voted to convene a Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (CHAP) to provide scientific expertise to the CPSC's staff as it proceeds to develop the rules called for today by the CPSC.”

In August 2015, several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including Health Care Without Harm submitted a petition to the CPSC to “name products containing any non-polymeric, additive organo-halogen flame retardant (OFR) as ‘banned hazardous substances.’ It would apply to children’s products, upholstered residential furniture, mattresses, and electronics devices with external casings containing the substances.” Industry groups argued the petition is too broad and does not consider the different levels of toxicity and risk of subclasses of chemicals, and CPSC staff agreed with this sentiment.

In a June 2017 briefing package, CPSC staff stated they will continue to monitor flame retardants in children’s products and mattresses and will work closely with voluntary standard setting organizations and the EPA to coordinate activities on flame retardant chemicals, including OFRs. Initially, they did not agree the data provided in the petition was sufficient to conclude that all OFRs are hazardous, and detecting them in the body is not enough to determine causation for negative health outcomes in humans. The final CPSC public hearing on the NGO petition leading up to the vote on September 14, 2017 can be viewed here.

This decision is significant because federal agencies rarely ban chemicals without the order of Congress. This action is consistent, however, with a growing trend in commerce as retailers, healthcare institutions, and schools push their suppliers to shift towards safer materials in their products. Health Care Without Harm supports this exciting result and will be following the rules closely as they are written.

[Sources: Chemical Watch; Earth Justice; Chicago Tribune]