Protect Firefighters from Toxic Chemicals in Flame Retardants


Target: U.S. Senator David Vitter

Goal: Commend efforts to regulate toxic chemicals

New legislation recently introduced in the Senate would save lives of firefighters and protect the health of countless Americans. Flame retardants are present in furniture, televisions, computers and building materials. While they to some extent do what they are supposed to ­– retard flames – they spread cancer-causing chemicals when they catch fire. The government currently does not have much power to study existing or new chemicals, severely constraining data gathering efforts. It is time to update a law that deals with toxic chemicals. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has introduced such a bill, but he needs support to secure its passage in the full Senate.

The bill, called the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013, has bipartisan support, with seven Democrats and seven Republicans co-sponsoring. It grants the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) more authority to require testing of chemicals if it suspects health hazards. The Chemical Substances Control Act currently in effect only allows the EPA to act when a hazard has been established, but provides no way of proactively establishing such a classification without the industry’s willingness to identify a hazard and inform the agency.

A recent pilot study conducted by Dr. Susan Shaw at the Marine Environmental Research Institute found extremely high levels of brominated dioxin and furan concentrations in firefighters’ blood. Bromine is an ingredient in flame retardants found in houses and offices. In the press release Dr. Shaw concluded that the “study provides clear evidence that firefighters are exposed to high levels of cancer-causing chemicals including brominated flame retardants and their combustion by-products – dioxins and furans – that are formed during fires by the burning of flame-retarded foam furniture, televisions, computers and building materials. Firefighters have much higher levels and different patterns of these chemicals in their blood than the general population. What we have shown here points to the possible link between firefighting and cancer.”

While safety of firefighters is certainly one great reason to support this piece of legislation, safety of countless Americans who are breathing toxic chemicals on a daily basis with little control of the EPA is another pressing issue that must be addressed by the Senate. Commend Senator David Vitter for writing the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013 and encourage him to persuade his colleagues to support it.

Dear Senator Vitter,

Your efforts to grant the EPA more authority to require testing of chemicals on the suspicion of health hazards are much needed and overdue. A new pilot study conducted by Dr. Susan Shaw at the Marine Environmental Research Institute found that firefighters are exposed to toxic chemicals that cause cancer. The reason is that flame retardants are present in many articles in one’s home, from furniture to electronics. While flame retardants often do what they are supposed to do – retard flames – they spread toxic chemicals when ignited, exposing firefighters to brominated dioxin and furan. Dr. Shaw’s research found high concentrations of these toxins in many firefighters’ blood samples.

The current Chemical Substances Control Act does not allow the EPA to demand testing from chemical companies before a new substance goes to the market. It can only ask for data if it has a well founded suspicion about the safety of a specific chemical. This law does not protect firefighters or families. Thank you for this proposed legislation that will move our country toward a better monitored chemical market. Please ask your colleagues in the Senate to support the Chemical Safety Improvement Act of 2013.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Null0 via Flickr

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