Fire Safety Without Harm: How New Flammability Standards in California Protect the Health and Environment of Alaskans

February 5, 2014 @ 10:00am (AKST)

A number of studies have linked flame retardant chemicals used in home furniture and baby products to human health concerns such as cancer, neurological impairments and fertility problems. In response, California Governor Jerry Brown announced changes to the state’s furniture flammability standards in November that would increase fire safety without the use of harmful chemicals. California’s standard had become the defacto standard for manufacturers across the US and Canada. Will the new standard succeed in shifting manufacturers to safer ways to achieve fire safety? Why is this an important public health concern in Alaska? Listen to Arlene Blum Ph.D., author, mountaineer, and founder of the Green Science Policy Institute, discuss of the health effects of flame retardant chemicals and the likely impacts of California’s new standard.

The Green Science Policy Institute was founded in 2008 in Berkeley, California by Executive Director Arlene Blum after she learned that the same chlorinated tris that her research had helped remove from children’s pajamas in the 1970s was back in furniture and baby products. Since its founding, Green Science Policy Institute has stopped ten unneeded flammability standards and prevented hundreds of millions of pounds of toxic flame retardants from being added to consumer products.

Alaska Senate Bill 151: Toxic-Free Children’s Act

Senator Olson Introduces “Toxic-Free Children’s Act” to Protect Alaskans – Senate Bill 151 bans the sale of children’s products with certain toxic flame retardants

JUNEAU- Senator Donny Olson, D-Golovin, has introduced Senate Bill 151, the “Toxic-Free Children Act”.  SB151 bans the sale of children’s products containing toxic flame retardants known as “Tris.”

“Children are Alaska’s most precious resource. From the point of conception through the first years of development, they are especially vulnerable to the effects of exposure to toxic chemicals,” said Senator Olson.  “Alaskans know well the devastating impacts of fetal alcohol exposure and it is 100 percent preventable if a woman does not drink alcohol during pregnancy.  Protecting developing children from exposure to toxic chemicals is not as simple.” Free webinar series about six families or “classes” of chemicals which contain many of the harmful substances found in everyday products.

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California law change sparks debate over use of flame retardants in furniture. Flame retardants are commonplace in most upholstered furniture to help prevent house fires. But studies have linked the chemicals to cancer and fertility problems, prompting California to change the state’s furniture flammability standards.

“Flame retardants in building insulation: a case for re-evaluating building codes” was published in the prestigious British journal Building Research and Information.

A study with Heather Stapleton identifying the toxic flame retardants in most of the couches in America was published in Environmental Science & Technology

Novel and high volume use flame retardants in US couches reflective of the 2005 PentaBDE phase out. Environ Sci Technol. 2012 Dec 18;46(24):13432-9. doi: 10.1021/es303471d. Epub 2012 Nov 28.

A paper finding that 80% of baby products tested contained halogenated flame retardant chemicals was the top paper of 2011 in Environmental Science & Technology:

Identification of flame retardants in polyurethane foam collected from baby products. Environ Sci Technol. 2011 Jun 15;45(12):5323-31. doi: 10.1021/es2007462. Epub 2011 May 18.

Featured speakers

Arlene Blum, Ph.D., Founder and Executive Director of the Green Science Policy InstituteDr. Blum is a biophysical chemist, visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Department of Chemistry, and author of Annapurna: A Woman’s Place and Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life. Blum’s research contributed to the regulation of two cancer-causing flame retardants used in children’s sleepwear in the 1970s, and prevented unnecessary flammability standards that would have led to the use of hundreds of millions of pounds of persistent toxic chemicals each year. Blum’s awards include selection by the UK Guardian as one of the world’s 100 most inspiring women and National Women’s History Project selection as one of 100 “Women Taking the Lead to Save Our Planet,” selection as an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, and recent election to the Hall of Mountaineering Excellence. Please see for more information about adventures and a calendar of events.

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