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Maine passes first-in-nation law on flame retardants in upholstered furniture

This week, by a decisive bipartisan vote to override Governor LePage’s veto, Maine Legislators prioritized the health and safety of Maine children, families, and firefighters—and established a precedent-setting standard for the nation.

Firefighters and families worked alongside a powerful coalition of labor and environmental groups, including the Environmental Health Strategy Center and its action arm, Prevent Harm, to pass what now is the first law in the nation to phase out all toxic flame retardants in upholstered furniture. This first-in-the-nation law establishes a new national precedent for protecting public health.

Our staff members organized volunteers and joined firefighters and their families to speak out on behalf of this bill, making the long trek to the State House in Augusta to talk directly with legislators, from early this year right up to the legislators’ override vote on Wednesday.

It wasn’t easy. Not at all. We were up against intense lobbying by out-of-state representatives of the chemical industry. Misleading information and debunked pseudoscience repeatedly made its way to Maine legislators and media outlets.

The chemical industry’s trade group, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) lobbies—often successfully—against state legislation that would harm chemical sales, such as LD 182. The chemical industry has manipulated scientific findings to overstate the effectiveness of toxic flame retardants and downplay the health risks for years, as the Chicago Tribune revealed in an award-winning investigative series as far back as 2012.

In the end, Maine common sense prevailed. The override vote was 123-14 in the House, and 31-1 in the Senate.

The facts swayed Maine legislators: toxic chemical flame retardants are linked to cancer, the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths among firefighters, and increase the risk of birth defects and learning disabilities among children. Moreover, safety experts and firefighters agree that flame retardants are not needed to slow down fires.

“Once again, Maine common sense leads the nation. This new law phases out all flame retardant chemicals in residential upholstered furniture, because none are needed for fire safety. And the Maine ban tells the chemical industry to give up its futile attempt to weaken national protections,” said Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center and Prevent Harm.

LD 182 is groundbreaking for two reasons. First, because flame retardants are unnecessary for fire safety, the new law phases out all such chemicals. This avoids “regrettable substitution,” in which alternatives also prove dangerous. Second, the law helps chill chemical industry lobbying for changes in national fire safety standards to counter California’s decision to no longer require flame retardant chemicals in residential upholstered furniture.

The state of Maine has sent a message to the chemical industry that the health and well being of firefighters and families is more important than their profits. Misinformation circulated during the process of getting this bill passed was unfortunate and uncalled for,” said John Martell, president of the Professional Firefighters of Maine, which joined forces with the Environmental Health Strategy Center and Prevent Harm to pass LD 182. “The facts show these chemicals don’t work and are unsafe. There are safer alternatives for life safety in our homes.”

Regardless of industry efforts, after January 1, 2019, such furniture can no longer be sold in the State of Maine if it contains flame retardant chemicals.

“Safer States is extremely proud of Maine’s firefighters, state advocates, parents, and everyone else who helped get this policy adopted,” said Sarah Doll, national director for Safer States, a network of environmental health coalitions and organizations in states around the country. “Restricting all toxic flame retardants in residential furniture sets a national precedent that will protect firefighters and communities in Maine and beyond.”