On Tuesday, Senator Durbin followed up on his demand for reform of regulations of toxic flame retardants by calling a hearing of the Senate Committee on Appropriations to examine the effectiveness of the furniture flammability standards that require the use of toxic chemicals – even in children’s products. 

You may recall the Chicago Tribune article series in May that exposed the failure of the chemicals and role of the chemical industry in pushing for the use of these chemicals.  In fact Senator Durbin prefaced the hearing by stating that "these chemicals do not make us any safer. These chemicals in and of themselves may cause health problems." 

Representatives from Underwriters Laboratories, Inc., an independent, not-for-profit product safety testing and certification organization, reported their findings to this effect.  In testimony before the committee, August Schaeffer, the Senior Vice President and Public Safety Officer, revealed that the flame retardant chemical concentrations used to meet fire regulations do not provide for sufficient egress times.  Even more importantly, there are other, more effective options such as a flame barrier used between the fabric and the foam that would allow occupants “significantly more time” to safely evacuate their home that do not require the use of flame retardant chemicals to be effective.  

The Chairman of the Consumer Protection Safety Bureau, Inez Tenenbaum, endorsed the use of a barrier material in furniture in her testimony and called for an alternative set of standards for children’s products in order to ensure their safety.  

Previous studies have shown that chemicals used in furniture to comply with outdated flammability standards, such as chlorinated Tris, do more harm than good.  In 2006, researchers at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission cautioned that adding chlorinated Tris to furniture would expose children to nearly twice the daily dose deemed acceptable by the federal agency. The cancer risk for children during the first two years of life would be seven times higher than what most physicians, scientists and regulators consider acceptable, according to the safety commission’s report.

Illinois PIRG is calling for the passage of the Safe Chemicals Act and applauds Senator Durbin’s leadership on the issue of toxins.  We are expecting the Senate to have a hearing on this bill within the next few weeks.  This is big. For the first time there will be a vote on the Safe Chemicals Act, a bill that would protect American families from toxic chemicals.   This is unacceptable. We are calling on the Senate to support this urgent legislation.

At a time when almost all pregnant women tested have several toxic chemicals in their bodies, Senator Durbin’s opening remarks summarized the need for action:  

"If this isn't a call to arms for families...I don't know what is."