Ban on flame retardant gains lawmaker support

Staff writerFebruary 1, 2014 

The effort to ban flame retardants in household products in Washington seems to be gathering steam.

In 2013, 53 House members voted in favor of legislation banning certain flame retardants in baby strollers, car seats and furniture, among other items. This year, when the same legislation came to the House floor, an additional 19 lawmakers joined supporters, bumping the votes in the yes column to 72.

Lawmakers cited a variety of reasons for higher margin of passage last month, from an HBO documentary about flame retardants to an enhanced understanding of the chemicals’ effects.

Sponsored by Democratic Rep. Kevin Van de Wege of Sequim, House Bill 1294 would effectively ban the use of flame retardant chemicals TCEP and TDCPP, known collectively as Tris, in children’s products and foam furniture padding. It would require manufacturers to find safer chemicals.

It would also allow the state Department of Ecology to ban up to 66 chemicals of high concern for children and penalize violators.

Van de Wege, a firefighter, says he deals with exposure to the chemicals firsthand.

“The chemicals are harmful to the environment and shown to be carcinogenic and cause birth defects,” Van de Wege said.

Sixteen Republicans changed their vote on HB 1294 this year, including Rep. Jason Overstreet, a Republican from Blaine.

Overstreet attributed his vote change to his viewing of the HBO documentary “Toxic Hot Seat,” a 2013 release that was based on the Chicago Tribune’s 2012 report on the toxicity of flame retardants and the extent to which the tobacco and chemical industries have deceived consumers about their dangerous effects.

“Being someone who likes to go where the facts take me, it was imperative to protect our kids,” Overstreet said. “I changed (my vote) specifically based on the Chicago Tribune exposé.”

According to the National Research Council, TDCPP, a flame retardant, has been linked to cancer in rats. It is also included in California’s Proposition 65, a list of chemicals known to cause cancer. TDCPP is an additive that over time can attach to household dust.

Rep. Chad Magendanz, a Republican from Issaquah, said that newfound trust in the regulation of toxic chemicals and a growing familiarity with the issue helped change his mind.

“I was concerned with the level of power we were giving the Department of Ecology,” Magendanz said Friday. “It’s hard not to recognize the danger that some of these chemicals represent right now. I guess I have more faith in the process.”

Some lawmakers are still worried about specifics of the legislation.

Rep. Shelly Short, a Republican from Addy, said that allowing the Department of Ecology to ban all chemicals considered a high concern for children is overreaching.

“There should be review and constant work to determine that our products are safe,” Short told lawmakers during a floor speech against passage of the legislation last month.

HB 1294 awaits a public hearing in the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee. The chairman of the committee, Sen. Doug Ericksen, introduced Senate Bill 5984, which aims to find a way to ban toxic chemicals without giving the Department of Ecology so much power.

Like House Bill 1294, it seeks to ban the manufacture and sale of products with more than 100 parts per million of Tris. But the Ferndale Republican’s legislation would limit the powers of Ecology to outright ban lower concentrations of Tris, as well as other chemicals.

Ericksen said he wants to focus on his legislation, which he believes won’t make Washington an outlier on the regulation of chemicals. Critics of the House bill have expressed a preference for a national standard rather than state-by-state regulation that hamstrings industry’s ability to produce allowable products.

“We want a bill that’s workable,” Ericksen said. “It doesn’t make sense to pass legislation that is not functional.”

Van de Wege said Thursday that the issue won’t go away in Olympia. Reports about companies misleading the public are hard to ignore, he said.

“People can put up with a lot of things in Olympia, but lying isn’t one of them,” Van de Wege said.

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