Assembly hearing on flame retardant chemicals in children’s products brings out many supporters for a ban, only one opponent- UPDATED with video
Guest blog by Kathy Curtis, CHNY Executive Director
Following last week’s implosion of the chemical industry front group “Citizens for Fire Safety,” the American Chemistry Council (ACC) made its public debut representing the only opposition to banning a cancer-causing chemical in children’s products. ACC’s Stephen Rosario and North American Flame Retardant Alliance’s Jackson Morrill were the first speakers at yesterday’s Assembly hearing on flame retardant chemicals in children’s products. Not only were they the only speakers present to fail to submit written testimony, they appeared to be profoundly unprepared.
They opened their statement by disavowing Citizens for Fire Safety (CFFS), even though the CEO of Albemarle (one of the three CFFS co-founding chemical makers) is on ACC’s board of directors. They also said they would not talk about the recent Chicago Tribune series that exposed CFFS as an industry front group that distorted science, gave misleading testimony, and exaggerated the effectiveness of their products.
Rosario and Morrill simply recycled the same tired old talking points they’ve used for decades, which boiled down to: We’re the ACC! We have scientists and engineers and technical experts and an enormous database of information. We work for Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform. We stand by our science, but with a very high level of proof before any action is triggered.
However, upon questioning they couldn’t say where that bar should be. Assembly members asked three different times, in three different ways: What information would be compelling enough for ACC to agree to a ban? What standards would you be willing to have imposed on you? Is there any chemical that should be banned? The answers were evasive and unsatisfactory, at best, and sometimes contradictory: PBDEs were “voluntarily” phased out because there was evidence of harm, but no, that is not the standard by which other chemicals should be judged.
Neither Morrill nor Rosario could name more than two of the 10 ACC Principles for TSCA reform. Most of these principles were addressed in the recent markup of Senator Frank Lautenberg’s (D-NJ) Safe Chemicals Act in the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. This much-needed reform is still vehemently opposed by the ACC despite considerable efforts to address their concerns.
Despite acknowledging that only five chemicals have been banned under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, ACC stated that banning a chemical is “very drastic.” “Alleged” harm must be weighed against the impact to on jobs and the economy, and therefore families of people who work for the chemical industry. When asked wouldn’t it be better to require proof of safety before a chemical is released on the market, ACC said no, their way is better: Quantifying acceptable risk. Morrill stated that the EPA’s New Chemicals Program has already prevented new chemicals from introduction, but when pressed to state how many, or to name them, he was unable to name a single one.
Rosario went on to say that we all face risks from the moment we wake up until we go to sleep. He, for example, has to fly often for work and takes a risk every time he gets on the plane. This set off a firestorm of response from legislators that the airline industry, thankfully, is heavily regulated for safety, without requiring 100% proof that harm would otherwise occur. In fact, legislators responded, that high burden of proof is not applied in any other regulatory context, and if it were, many safeguards Americans take for granted would disappear.
There was debate about the definition and applicability of ‘weight of evidence’ in this context, and legislators were happy to delve deeply into specific policy questions. This proved challenging for Rosario and Morrill, who frequently had to revert to a plea for more time to look at these issues, since, they said, they just began representing the flame retardant chemical makers last Friday. (In point of fact, Morrill has represented flame retardant makers for ACC since at least March 2011, according to information on ACC's website.)
The roster of witnesses in support of safer chemicals and an end to the use of chemicals added as flame retardants in children’s products included:
Philip Landrigan, M.D., Dean for Global Health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine,
Kurunthachalam Kannan, Ph.D. from NYS DOH Wadsworth Center,
Julie Herbstman, Ph.D. from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health,
Peter Brigham, MSW, Founding President of the Federation of Burn Foundations,
James Burns, President of the Fireman’s Association of the State of New York, and
Rob Lederer, representing the American Sustainable Business Council.
Testimony was also submitted in support of restricting toxic chemical use by Andrew McGuire, burn survivor, with the Trauma Foundation, and Dennis Sweeney, Health and Safety Representative for the NYS Professional Fire Fighters Association.
The JustGreen Partnership also had a strong showing - five members were also expert witnesses testifying in support of banning these chemicals:
Ellen Webb from the Center for Environmental Health,
Eve Gartner, Esq., from Earthjustice,
Stephen Boese from the Learning Disabilities Association of NYS,
Cecil Corbin-Mark from WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and
Kathy Curtis from Clean and Healthy New York (me!)
Twelve more Partners signed on to our comments and several others submitted written testimony of their own.
What’s noteworthy is that speakers from the scientific community and others that might be assumed to be in support of the use of chemical flame retardants were some of the most vehement opponents to their use. Dr. Herbstman stated that the science supports the chemical bans New York is considering. Dr. Landrigan urged broader reform, saying that humans cannot continue to foul their own nest. Peter Brigham stated that the burn injury community strongly supports legislation such as the bills that would ban TRIS. Jim Burns from FASNY made the strongest statement of all: Any product that hurts children should be removed from the market voluntarily or government should ban it.
We couldn’t agree with him more.
Miss the live-streaming of the hearing? No problem: watch the hearing on our Youtube Channel: