Legislation that bans the sale of certain types of bedding and furniture treated with a controversial flame retardant chemical became law in Rhode Island at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, making its way into the General Laws without the signature of Gov. Gina Raimondo.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Legislation that bans the sale of certain types of bedding and furniture treated with a controversial flame retardant chemical became law in Rhode Island at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, making its way into the General Laws without the signature of Gov. Gina Raimondo.
Despite strong opposition from the chemical industry’s chief trade group, the American Chemistry Council, Raimondo opted against vetoing the proposed law.
The law basically bans the sale of any bedding or furniture containing more than the tiniest amount of a fire retardant chemical known as organohalogen. It carries a fine of $5,000 for the first violation and $10,000 for each subsequent violation, but does not take effect until July 1, 2019.
Supporters of the ban say that organohalogens do little to reduce fire risk but when they flake off they are easily inhaled and harmful. Meanwhile, when the chemical burns, they say, the resulting toxins pose potentially severe breathing hazards, especially to firefighters.
Critics argue that the retardants have value in preventing serious fires in the first place.
“This law will remove a critical layer of fire protection and could increase the vulnerability of the citizens of Rhode Island when fires occur,” said Bryan Goodman, a spokesman for the chemistry council’s North American Flame Retardant Alliance (NAFRA).
Rhode Island is the second state to ban these particular flame retardants, following the lead of Maine, according to Goodman.
But Rhode Island, he said, was already among 13 other states to ban some other types of flame retardants.
In testimony before the Senate’s Judiciary Committee in March, representatives of firefighters, including union representatives and the president of the Rhode Island Fire Chiefs Association, gave verbal support for the law.
A toxicologist who chairs an advisory council for NAFRA, Thomas G. Osimitz, asserted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is assessing various types of flame retardants. He also argued that there is no scientific evidence of a link between fire retardants and long-term adverse health effects to firefighters.
A researcher at the University of Miami, Hannah Gardener, argued that the proposed regulation of the fire retardants would protect children from increased cancer risk and impaired brain development.
The enactment of the law in Rhode Island follows recent action by a federal agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The agency voted on Sept. 20 to immediately warn the public about the dangers of organohalogens in baby and toddler products, mattresses, upholstered furniture and electronics enclosures, according to the Chicago Tribune, which has investigated the flame retardants.
Some of the chemicals have been forced off the market after independent scientists determined they were accumulating in people and posed serious health risks, says the Tribune.
But advocates and scientists note that the chemical industry has a long history of replacing harmful flame retardants with chemically similar compounds. Later on such compounds have been found to be just as worrisome, if not more so.
The Tribune’s “Playing with Fire” investigation in 2012 showed how a deceptive campaign by the tobacco and chemical industries led to the widespread use of toxic, ineffective flame retardants in American homes.