Decade Long Push for New Law Finally Pays Off

AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) Health advocates and firefighters have been fighting for a proposed law to ban toxic flame retardants in household furniture for years.

Wednesday, their dedication paid off as Maine lawmakers overrode a veto from the Governor to enact the first law in the nation to phase out toxic flame retardants.

Michael Belliveau of the Environmental Health Strategy Center says, "Once again, Maine common sense leads the nation. This is the toughest law in the country. It phases out all flame retardant chemicals in home furniture and that's important because it breaks the cycle of poison that's allowed the chemical industry to replace banned substances in the past with other toxic chemicals."

Safety experts say these substances aren't needed to slow fires.

Ronnie Green, of the Professional Firefighters of Maine says, "There's no need for those chemicals. There are safer alternatives. There's fabrics we can use that are actually made right here in the state of Maine that can do a better job at flame spread. Smoke detectors and sprinklers save lives, chemicals don't."

Health experts say toxic chemical flame retardants are linked to cancer.

Dr. Susan Shaw of the Marine and Environmental Research Institute says, "When flame retardant furniture starts to burn, it creates more carcinogenic material that the firefighters cannot avoid inhaling, ingesting, and getting into their skin."

Cancer is now the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths for professional firefighters.

They say they're glad to see this bill pass.

Green says, "The older guys, like myself so to speak, that have been in the business for a long time, we're not going to see the benefit of this, but for the younger generation moving forward, the less we can expose those guys to the chemicals, the more we can do to mitigating anything."

Supporters of the bill say furniture manufacturers are also in favor of the new law.

Belliveau says, "They're tired of spending money on chemicals that don't provide any measure of fire safety and can harm their customers."

The bill allows for existing inventory to be sold -- but after January 1st, 20-19 -- such furniture can no longer be sold in Maine if it contains flame retardant chemicals.

Belliveau says, "Health and safety comes first. If you're going to sell products that don't work and are unsafe, states like Maine are going to say no more and that's what the legislature did."