Study Confirms Californians Poisoned with Toxic Fire Retardants

Leno urges Governor to take immediate action to stop the contamination of California homes

SAN FRANCISCO, CA— Highlighting a recent study showing that Californians have twice as much toxic halogenated fire retardants in our blood than the national average, Assemblyman Mark Leno urged the Governor today to take immediate action to stop the addition of these chemicals to furniture and baby products sold in California.  The findings, published in the academic journal Environmental Science and Technology on Wednesday points to California’s obscure furniture flammability regulation, Technical Bulletin (TB) 117 as the cause.

“This report confirms our worst fears about the chemical disaster in virtually every home in California,” said Assemblyman Leno. “TB 117 is poisoning our homes, our kids, and our mother’s milk with toxic fire retardants that cause thyroid hormone disruptions and damage the developing reproductive and nervous systems in infants and children.  I am urging the Governor to do everything in his power to stop it.”

The study, conducted by the Silent Spring Institute, UC Berkeley, and Harvard University, also found that dust in California homes is contaminated with the now banned halogenated fire retardant penta-BDE at 4 to 10 times the levels measured nationally and 200 times more than in Europe.  It can also be found in “nearly every species across the globe.”

Assemblyman Leno, along with advocates at Friends of the Earth, Making Our Milk Safe (MOMS), and firefighters have been fighting for the last two years to replace TB 117, a 1970’s era flammability standard responsible for the use of toxic fire retardants in baby products and furniture.  Leno’s AB 706, which failed passage under pressure from the chemical industry, would have replaced TB 117 with a new cigarette ignition resistance standard proposed by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, providing superior fire safety while eliminating toxic exposure.

“The Governor should order the immediate suspension of TB 117, require the Bureau to enforce the current ban on penta-BDE in imported furniture, accelerate the development of an alternatives assessment process in the Green Chemistry Initiative, and use alternatives assessment to look first at halogenated fire retardants found in furniture,” said Leno.

Virtually every Californian tested has been found to have fire retardants stored in their bodies, with babies showing the highest levels.  Halogenated fire retardants pass from mothers’ bodies to children during pregnancy and through breast milk. Levels of these chemicals have increased 40-fold in human breast milk since the 1970s. 

This increase coincides with the expanded use of fire retardants in order to comply with California’s TB 117. Previous studies have shown that elevated cancer rates among firefighters compared with the general population, likely result from workplace exposure to carcinogens like dioxins and furans, which are formed when PBDE fire retardants burn.