Industry fights proposed ban on flame retardant linked to cancer

A bill that would make New York the first state in the nation to ban the chemical chlorinated Tris, a flame retardant used in household and baby products that has been widely identified as a cancer threat, has faced heavy opposition from the chemical industry and may not come to a vote in the current legislative session.

The measure would break national ground in regulating chlorinated Tris, whose supervision has been left to the states in the absence of clear guidelines under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. Similar bans were proposed this year in Washington State and Connecticut but stalled without a vote following intense lobbying by the chemical industry.

“The longer they can drag their feet, the longer their product can be out on the market,” said Bobbi Chase Wilding, deputy director of Clean and Healthy New York, an advocacy group promoting the proposed ban. “That’s really the lesson here.”

Chlorinated Tris — also called Tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate or TDCPP— has been identified as a cancer risk by agencies that include the National Research Council and National Cancer Institute as well as the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission. Researchers from the commission warned in 2006 that using the chemical in furniture would expose children to nearly twice the daily dose it considered safe, and create a cancer risk for children under 2 years of age that was seven times higher than most scientists considered acceptable. Three decades earlier, manufacturers voluntarily removed chlorinated Tris from children’s pajamas after a study in the journal Science found it to be carcinogenic.

The chemical has since made its way back into widespread use in products made with polyurethane foam, such as furniture cushions, nursing pillows and car seats. In October 2011, California’s Carcinogen Identification Committee, a state panel of scientists, voted 5-to-1 to add chlorinated Tris to the state’s list of cancer-causing chemicals. The designation requires warning labels stating that products with the chemical contain carcinogens, but does not ban its use.

In New York, the state Assembly voted unanimously in March to pass its bill banning chlorinated Tris. The Senate version, introduced by Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo), was approved by State Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee on May 15.

Grisanti was also the chief Senate sponsor of a 2011 law that forbade another flame retardant, TCEP, from children’s products but that excluded chlorinated Tris, under the name TDCPP, from the legislation. Chlorinated Tris is used far more commonly than TCEP.

It wasn’t the first time New York State had banned a toxic flame retardant. In 2004, the state legislature forbade the sale of pentaBDE, in one of several state-level bans that prompted manufacturers to voluntarily phase out the chemical’s use nationwide. Chlorinated Tris then became a popular substitute in products that had previously contained pentaBDE.

A review of lobbying data from the New York World’s Lobbies at the Top database found that the Citizens for Fire Safety Institute, an industry group for three leading companies that produce flame retardants, has invested heavily in opposing a potentially precedent-setting chlorinated Tris ban in New York. From January 2011 to February 2012, the group paid influential Albany lobbyist Patricia Lynch Associates $210,000 to make its case to the legislature on bills including numerous versions of the ban.

The Citizens for Fire Safety Institute was the target of a scathing investigation by the Chicago Tribune earlier this month. The Tribune found that the group has sponsored a burn surgeon, Dr. David Heimbach, who repeatedly testified before state legislatures against bans on flame retardants with heart-wrenching accounts of child burn victims that turned out be fabricated. The organization describes itself as a “a coalition of fire professionals, educators, community activists, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders,” but in fact has only three members: Chemtura Corp., Albemarle Corp. and ICL Industrial Products, all leading manufacturers of flame retardants.

The Citizens for Fire Safety Institute and its director, Grant Gillham, did not respond to repeated telephone inquiries from the New York World.

After passing unanimously in the Senate Environmental Committee, Grisanti’s bill now sits in the Senate Finance Committee, which must review bills that have spending implications for New York State.

Advocates supporting the measure say the committee’s review is unnecessary because the bill does not require the state to spend money. “It’s a way to quietly send it to a committee that will never hear it, and have it die a quiet death,” said Wilding. Last year’s bill banning TCEP was found not to have any fiscal impact and did not require a vote by the Finance Committee.

The office of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who controls which measures are voted on by the full Senate, has not responded to three telephone inquiries about whether the chlorinated Tris ban will come to a vote this session. The session ends next month on June 21.

Data Tools


Our work has appeared in…

About TNYW

The New York World focuses on producing data-driven investigative projects.