by Maureen Swanson, Director, Healthy Children Project

The Learning Disabilities Association of America played a key role in an important decision by a federal agency this month to ban an entire class of neurotoxic flame retardants from furniture, children’s products, mattresses and electronics casings. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) granted a petition filed by the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice, in which LDA was a petitioning organization. Maureen Swanson, LDA’s Healthy Children Project Director, testified to the U.S. CPSC on Sept. 14, 2017, on the threat these toxic chemicals pose to children’s brain development.

The CPSC voted on September 20, 2017 to ban the halogenated flame retardants from the four products categories, and further voted to issue strong guidance to manufacturers not to use the flame retardant chemicals in products, and to warn the public about the health dangers. Additionally, the CPSC convened a Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (CHAP) to provide scientific expertise in documenting hazards posed by organohalogens.

Based on the extensive scientific evidence, and in light of widespread exposures particularly to pregnant women and children, there is scientific consensus that this particular group of flame retardant chemicals can harm brain development, and that even low-level exposures may result in learning, behavioral or intellectual deficits. In part, these flame retardant chemicals can alter brain development by interfering with thyroid hormones.

The toxic chemicals migrate from products into house dust. Children are particularly at risk from ingesting the chemical-laden dust when they put their hands and objects into their mouths. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that children ingest four to five times more dust than adults.

Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, testified at the public hearing: “We know that all chemicals in this class will escape into the environment and into people.”  Because these chemicals migrate continuously out from everyday household products into the air and dust, more than 97 percent of U.S. residents have measurable quantities of toxic organohalogen flame retardants in their blood.

In addition to testifying at the hearing, LDA helped to bring key scientists and partner learning and developmental disabilities organizations to provide written comments and oral testimony to the CPSC in support of the petition. In addition, the International Firefighters Association testified that these flame retardant chemicals, while not effectively preventing fires, put firefighters at great risk of cancers related to exposure to the toxic chemicals. The American Academy of Pediatrics also testified on the need to protect children’s health and development from the flame retardant chemicals.

This entire class of chemicals has been associated with serious human health problems, including cancer, reduced sperm count, increased time to pregnancy, decreased IQ in children, impaired memory, learning deficits, hyperactivity, hormone disruption and lowered immunity.

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