3 August 2017 / Built environment, Halocarbons, United States
The Maine legislature has overridden the governor's veto and passed into law a measure banning the use of all chemical flame retardants in upholstered furniture.
The measure (LD 182) prohibits the sale of residential upholstered furniture containing more than 0.1% of a flame retardant chemical, or containing more than 0.1% of a mixture that includes them.
As with several flame retardant restrictions considered in other states, the bill was backed by firefighters groups, who have raised concern about increased cancer rates due to exposure to chemicals in burning homes.
The bill cleared the House by a 127-5 margin last month, and sailed through the Senate without a dissenting vote.
But the Republican Governor Paul LePage vetoed the measure earlier this week. He said that by prohibiting all chemical flame retardants, the bill "eliminates the ability for industry to innovatively develop" alternatives, and "bypasses the scientific review process… [and instead] assumes harm to human health from all chemical flame retardants".
The measure, he said, increases red tape for businesses, disrupts interstate commerce, and may increase costs and limit availability of furniture to customers.
The governor also said that firefighters are exposed to a wide variety of chemicals during fires, and that this bill "will not do anything to address these issues"; firefighters themselves, he said, have stated the most effective way to enhance protection is through increased use of respiratory protection.
"I applaud the intent of the bill, but there are other ways to protect firefighters without negatively impacting the economy".
Nevertheless, the legislature overrode his decision yesterday, voting 127-14 in the House and 31-1 in the Senate to enact the law notwithstanding the objections.
The Professional Firefighters of Maine, along with the NGOs Prevent Harm and the Silent Spring Institute, as well as the professional group American Academy of Pediatrics, were among the many groups supporting the measure.
Backers called the bill "groundbreaking" for including a comprehensive ban on flame retardants that avoids the possibility for 'regrettable substitutions'.
And Sarah Doll, national director for NGO Safer States, said the measure "sets a national precedent" around restricting flame retardants in furniture.
But the North American Flame Retardants Alliance (Nafra) said it is disappointed in Maine's decision. Spokesperson Bryan Goodman said the new law "will remove a critical layer of fire protection and could increase the vulnerability of Mainers when fires occur".
Chemicals manufacturer Albemarle Corporation testified earlier this year that the bill’s "over the top" ban on all chemical flame retardants encompasses substances that are "so benign that they actually double as over the counter pharmaceuticals".
And Maine's Department of Environmental Protection also testified against the measure in February, citing fears that it would impose a "tremendous" burden on the agency.
The ban takes effect from 1 January 2019.
Meanwhile, San Francisco, California introduced legislation last week that would ban the sale of upholstered furniture and children's products "made with or containing an added flame retardant chemical".
The city joins more than a quarter of US states that have considered legislation to ban or restrict flame retardants this year.