N.Y. firefighters, advocates join lawmaker to ban cancer-causing flame retardants

Denis Slattery for New York Daily News

May 18, 2021

Originally published in New York Daily News on May 18, 2021.

ALBANY — New York firefighters and environmental advocates joined Sen. Todd Kaminsky on Tuesday to push for the passage of a bill that would ban carcinogenic flame retardant chemicals in household items.

Kaminsky (D-Nassau) is the lead sponsor of legislation that would prohibit toxic flame retardants in electronics, furniture and mattresses.

“This bill will save lives,” Kaminsky said. “This bill would ban the most dangerous flame retardants in household products. It’s time to stop listening to the corporate lobbyists and listen to our first responders.”

Supporters rallied outside of an FDNY firehouse in St. Albans, Queens, to encourage lawmakers to take up the measure, which mirrors protections already in place in 13 other states as well as Europe.

Flame retardants are in everyday items such as TVs, phones and mattresses, and are meant to slow or prevent the start or growth of a fire.

However, many of the chemicals have been linked to serious health effects, from cancer and reproductive issues to developmental disabilities.

“FDNY fire officers and firefighters face dangers every day, but cancer is the hidden killer,” said Jake LeMonda, president of the United Fire Officers Association. “This bill would go a long way in preventing our members from inhaling the cancer-causing toxins, and save lives of future generations of firefighters and fire officers in New York City and State — allowing first responders to stay safe, while keeping our city safe.”

Industry and business groups have pushed back on the bill, arguing that it could increase fire deaths, injury and property damage.

Groups such as the American Chemistry Council, Association Home Appliance Manufacturers and The Business Council of New York State also say the legislation will “adversely impact product safety for New Yorkers and would put manufacturers, retailers and small businesses in our state at a competitive disadvantage.”

Bobby Eustace, the vice president of Uniformed Firefighters Association, and others believe opponents are resorting to scare tactics in order to prevent the measure’s passage and protect their bottom line.

“It’s an unfortunate side effect of technology and advancement that couches just aren’t the same, furniture is just not the same,” Eustace said. “You buy a couch and you hear it’s flame retardant, it’s supposed to be safer. It’s not safer to us, it’s not safer to you.”

Dr. Leonardo Trasande of NYU Langone Health said the health risks are real for pregnant women and children as well as firefighters who are exposed to the chemicals.

“We know that these flame retardants that we are talking about are associated with cancers, especially in highly exposed populations such as firefighters,” he said. “The bottom line is these categories of chemicals are literally hacking our our human health and costing our economy.”