We can do more to protect children from toxic chemicals

March 31, 2013 

The couch in your living room probably contains cancer-causing chemicals.

Those same chemicals are in car seats designed to keep your kids safe.

Why? These toxic chemicals are commonly added to furniture and foam stuffing in our children’s products for “fire safety,” despite the fact that firefighters and scientists will tell you they don’t prevent fires at all. Chemical companies, valuing profits over people’s health, don’t want you to know that toxic “flame retardants” don’t actually work.

In reality, these chemicals make household fires more lethal by increasing the toxicity in smoke inhaled by firefighters, first responders and victims.

Chlorinated Tris, the current toxic flame retardant of choice, is a known carcinogen and has been proved to alter hormones and hinder brain development in children. Babies and young children are exposed to Tris because it can be found in car seats and strollers – as well as changing pads, nap mats and nursing pillows.

Tris doesn’t stay in the products, and over time finds its way into household dust. Babies and young children who play on the floor are more likely to have Tris end up in their mouths. In fact, Tris is showing up in our bodies and waterways.

We’ve been aware of the danger in toxic flame retardants for nearly 40 years. Up until the 1970s, Tris was used as a flame retardant in children’s pajamas. It was later removed from pajamas because of concerns about its health effects.

Why do we continue to use ineffective toxic chemicals that are harmful to our children, grandchildren and the environment?

Here’s why: The powerful chemical companies have stacked the deck in their favor by supporting industry regulations that require the use of toxic flame retardants. They don’t want to lose that stream of easy revenue.

As lawmakers and parents, we find the abundance of these chemicals in our homes and environment alarming and wrong.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to choose between our children’s health and their safety.

There are better ways to make the household items we depend on. There are nontoxic ways to meet fire safety standards. We can have it both ways – and we should ask for nothing less.

We have introduced the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act, House Bill 1294 – a consumer safety bill to ban the unnecessary use of Tris in common children’s products and household furniture. The bill also includes safeguards necessary to ensure a company doesn’t simply swap Tris out for another equally toxic chemical – which would only continue the cycle.

The good news is we passed this reform in the state House of Representatives. The bad news is this legislation is stalled in the Senate, and the high-powered chemical industry will do everything it can to make sure this bill doesn’t go anywhere.

If signed into law by the governor, Washington state would once again lead the nation in consumer protection and public health.

Let’s choose the health of our families over the wealth of powerful corporations. Let’s prevent our first-responders from inhaling toxic chemicals on the job.

Let’s make Washington a safer, healthier place to live by passing the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act.

State Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, is the assistant ranking member on the Senate Ways & Means Committee. State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, is the House majority whip and serves on the Health Care and Wellness Committee. He is also a professional firefighter.

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