On February 21st, Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition attended a presentation at Harvard University by Executive Director of the Green Science Policy Initiative, Arlene Blum, PhD, to discuss the potential impact of California’s new flammability standards on Massachusetts. Our sister organization, Silent Spring Institute, helped to organize this meeting and Research Scientist Robin Dodson presented findings of their flame retardant research.
As you may know, California’s new flammability standard (TB 117-2013) went into effect in January 2014. Since flame retardant chemicals have been detected at high levels in our homes and bodies, and have been linked to health problems including cancer, infertility and birth defects, this change is an environmental health victory!
The new standard changes the way furniture is tested for fire resistance. Rather than requiring that the inner upholstery withstand an open flame for 12 seconds (resulting in the use of high volumes of chemical flame retardants), the new standard involves a smolder test to the surface of the furniture. Most importantly for our health, the new standard was designed to reduce the reliance on chemical flame retardants and included exceptions for all baby products so they will never be treated with chemicals to meet a fire standard.
What does this mean for Massachusetts?
The old California standard had become the de facto national standard: rather than reformulating products state by state, manufacturers often sold CA TB 117 compliant furniture throughout the country. Many other areas of the country have adopted California’s old flammability standard, including the Massachusetts statewide regulatory agency, the Division of Fire Safety.
To complicate matters and add fuel to this regulatory “fire,” the Boston Fire Department requires compliance with a separate California flammability standard: TB 133. Like TB 117 and TB 117-2013, TB 133 is a flammability testing procedure, but one used specifically for the furnishings of public spaces. It is not a component test like the old TB 117 which tested only the inner upholstery. According to TB 133, the entire piece of furniture must withstand ignition from a gas burner inside a testing chamber.
Again, other municipalities (including Massachusetts as a whole) have adopted this standard. However, unlike other municipalities, Boston has been vigilant about enforcing this standard and offers no exceptions for public buildings fitted with sprinkler systems. It has been hypothesized that, as a result, chemical flame retardant use is widespread and prevalent in this area.
Bart Shea, Deputy Chief and Fire Marshall of the Fire Prevention Division of the Boston Fire Department, says, “The state will allow a reduction from TB 133 to TB 117 in buildings protected by quick response sprinklers. That is not an allowance that is recognized by the Boston Fire Department since we feel TB 133 is a more stringent and applicable test for public buildings and assemblies.”
According to Dr. Blum, some commercial furniture manufacturers have estimated that 40-70% of TB 133 compliant furniture is distributed to Boston. Since compliance with regulation standards can be achieved in different ways, it is possible that the levels of flame retardants used in TB 133 compliant furnishings, and potential exposure, could be much higher (researchers at Silent Spring Institute hope to test this hypothesis in the future).
Now that TB 117-2013 has gone into effect in California, and there is growing support for a movement away from the use of chemical flame retardants, authorities in Massachusetts and in the city of Boston must decide whether to revise their own fire safety practices and how. As this process unfolds, MBCC representatives will continue to attend meetings and remain up-to-date on our progress. When necessary, we will make our voices heard in favor of the movement away from chemical flame retardant use.
Massachusetts was a leader in environmental health policy with the passage of the Toxics Use Reduction Act in the 1980′s. We would like to see this legacy continue with respect to everyday exposures to toxins linked with breast cancer and other diseases.
Key Terms & Groups
Board of Fire Department: fire safety regulatory body for the state of Massachusetts.
Boston Fire Department: fire safety regulatory body for the city of Boston.
TB 117: Old California flammability standard which required that the inner upholstery of furniture withstand an open flame for 12 seconds. To meet the standard, manufacturers added a high volume of chemical flame retardants to the upholstery.
TB 117-2013: California’s new flammability standard as of January 2014. This standard is a smolder test to the outside of the furniture. It reduces the reliance on chemical flame retardant chemicals to meet the standard because manufacturers can use barriers of naturally flame resistant materials to protect the inner upholstery from igniting during the smolder test. Exceptions also exist for baby products so they are never treated with chemical flame retardants to meet the standard.
TB 133: A California flammability standard for furnishings used in public spaces. This standard requires that the entire piece of furniture withstand ignition from a gas burner inside a test chamber.
Researchers at Oregon State University used silicone wrist bracelets to test the chemical exposures of study participants over a 30 day period. Silicone is porous so it absorbs and traps many types of chemicals, making it a great way to track exposures over a period of time. At the end of the study, researchers detected nearly 50 chemicals in the bracelets. These included chemicals from cigarette smoke, flame retardants, pet flea medications, personal care product ingredients, and more.
Working toward the goal of breast cancer prevention, MBCC is helping its sister organization, Silent Spring Institute, with a request for state funding to conduct water quality research on Cape Cod and Central MA. This request also includes funding for MBCC to launch education and outreach projects to disseminate research results to the public.
MBCC Board President, Margo Simon Golden, and Silent Spring Institute Research Scientist, Dr. Laurel Schaider, visited the MA State House in January and February to discuss this important research and deliver your signatures and comments from last year’s petition. Now your Representative needs to hear from YOU!
Call/email your Representative and ask him/her to call Representative Brian Mannal and volunteer to co-sponsor this funding request. Feel free to use our sample letters as a model but please note that legislators at the Statehouse have continuously stated that personally written comments are taken much more seriously than copied and pasted sample letters.
Please let us know who you contacted and how they responded so we can keep track of who supports this funding request!
1. Investigate exposure to chemical herbicides in groundwater and homes on Cape Cod:
How? Using a combination of lab and field studies, researchers will evaluate the movement of herbicides used for vegetation management and lawn maintenance into groundwater, exposures through contact with sprayed areas, and migration of herbicides into indoor dust.
Why? Exposures to herbicides have been linked to hormone disruption, DNA damage, mammary tumors, and developmental toxicity in animal studies. In 2013 NSTAR resumed spraying herbicides on Cape Cod as part of a vegetation management plan and many herbicides are widely used for lawn and turf care.
2. Research exposure to perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) on Cape Cod and in Central MA:
How? Researchers will assess PFC exposure from consumer product use through lab experiments measuring PFCs leaching from non-stick cookware and food packaging. Researchers will also measure PFCs in water by testing wells in several towns in Central MA.
Why? PFCs can cause mammary tumors and liver damage in animals and have been linked to cancer and hormone disruption in people. Past research at Silent Spring Institute detected perfluorinated chemicals in Cape Cod drinking water! For more information about Silent Spring Institute’s past water research, check out the Research Updates video segment, “Is Your Drinking Water Safe? Silent Spring Institute Water Quality Research.”
3. Public Information & Outreach:
How? The proposal includes funding for MBCC and Silent Spring Institute to organize education programs to disseminate research results through community meetings, news articles, videos, and more.
Why? Many people are unaware of new science about harmful exposures from everyday products and pollutants in homes. Citizens deserve access to this information to make informed decisions on issues which will affect their health and the health of their families.
On February 27th Representative Shimkus (R-IL) unveiled the Chemicals in Commerce Act as a “discussion draft” to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This is the latest step in debates over reforming TSCA, which has not been updated since it was passed in 1976.
MBCC is a longtime, active member of the coalition, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, and agrees with their expert analysis of this bill. Unfortunately, this effort (fueled by the interests of the chemical industry) fails to better protect public health from the multitude of common chemical exposures we face today. Andy Igrejas, the Director of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, states:
“This bill would do nothing whatsoever to protect the public from the health impacts of toxic chemicals and would instead roll back the very limited oversight that we currently have. It lacks credibility except as a political statement for corporate supporters in an election year. Anyone who cares about the health impacts of chemicals on American families will forcefully oppose this legislation. The draft ignores nearly every recommendation for reform made by health professionals, environmental experts, and advocates for families dealing with cancer, autism, infertility and other health problems linked to chemical exposure, but it adopts the wish list of oil and chemical companies like Dow and ExxonMobil.”
Safer Chemicals Healthy Families notes the following problems with the Chemicals in Commerce Act:
- Annul laws in Maine, Washington, California, Minnesota and several other states that provide most of the information on toxic chemicals in consumer products.
- Continue the legal standard and other hurdles in current TSCA that prevented EPA from taking action on asbestos.
- Make it nearly impossible for EPA to require health information for new chemicals before they end up on the market and in the products we bring into our homes. (This is one of the few areas where EPA currently has some authority.)
- Significantly roll back EPA’s authority to restrict the use of existing toxic chemicals in products.
- Contradict the recommendations of the National Academy of Science and the American Academy of Pediatrics for how chemical safety should be reviewed.
- Require EPA to weigh the economic benefits of a chemical- like whether it leaves streaks on your windows- against whether it causes birth defects, cancer, autism, or infertility.
Cape Cod Times, Friday February 28th, 2014:
Mariah Blake, Reporter for Mother Jones, recently wrote a scary yet informative piece on a very real consequence of our virtually non-existent chemical regulatory system: when one chemical is removed from products, there is no guarantee in place that the replacement is any safer. She uses the recent example of BPA in plastic products to highlight this issue, and the plastic industry’s effort to cover it up.
We’ve included some excerpts from the article below but if you would like to read the full text, you can click the link at the bottom of this post.
Each night at dinnertime, a familiar ritual played out in Michael Green’s home: He’d slide a stainless steel sippy cup across the table to his two-year-old daughter, Juliette, and she’d howl for the pink plastic one. Often, Green gave in. But he had a nagging feeling. As an environmental-health advocate, he had fought to rid sippy cups and baby bottles of the common plastic additive bisphenol A (BPA), which mimics the hormone estrogen and has been linked to a long list of serious health problems. Juliette’s sippy cup was made from a new generation of BPA-free plastics, but Green, who runs the Oakland, California-based Center for Environmental Health, had come across research suggesting some of these contained synthetic estrogens, too.
The center shipped Juliette’s plastic cup, along with 17 others purchased from Target, Walmart, and Babies R Us, to CertiChem, a lab in Austin, Texas. More than a quarter—including Juliette’s—came back positive for estrogenic activity. These results mirrored the lab’s findings in its broader National Institutes of Health-funded research on BPA-free plastics.
Those startling results set off a bitter fight with the $375-billion-a-year plastics industry. The American Chemistry Council, which lobbies for plastics makers and has sought to refute the science linking BPA to health problems, has teamed up with Tennessee-based Eastman Chemical—the maker of Tritan, a widely used plastic marketed as being free of estrogenic activity.
“A poison kills you,” says biology professor Frederick vom Saal. “A chemical like BPA reprograms your cells and ends up causing a disease in your grandchild that kills him.”
Eastman’s offensive is just the latest in a wide-ranging industry campaign to cast doubt on the potential dangers of plastics in food containers, packaging, and toys—a campaign that closely resembles the methods Big Tobacco used to stifle scientific evidence about the dangers of smoking. Indeed, in many cases, the plastics and chemical industries have relied on the same scientists and consultants who defended Big Tobacco.
All the while, evidence is mounting that the products so prevalent in our daily lives may be leaching toxic chemicals into our bodies, with consequences affecting not just us, but many generations to come.
US regulators also have continued to ignore the mounting evidence linking BPA and similar chemicals to human disease, even as bans have cropped up around the world. Although more than 90 studies examining people with various levels of exposure suggest BPA affects humans much as it does animals, the FDA recently announced that its research “supports the safety of BPA” in food containers and packaging. And the EPA program that was supposed to screen some 80,000 chemicals for endocrine disruption hasn’t fully vetted a single substance.
Read the full text: The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics, by Mariah Blake at Mother Jones
MBCC has been selected as an honoree of the one hundred in 2014!
The one hundred is an annual event celebrating individuals and organizations who have made strides in the movement to eradicate cancer. It is created and sponsored by the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.
MBCC Executive Director, Cheryl Osimo, and Board President, Margo Simon Golden, will attend the annual dinner of the one hundred on June 10th to receive this award. Click the image below to read the award letter!
In the January 2014 issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Science of The Total Environment, Silent Spring Institute researchers published results of their most recent water quality research. Researchers tested 20 public water wells for 92 different wastewater-related contaminants. The most frequently detected contaminants were pharmaceuticals and perfluorosurfactants (used in many consumer products including food packaging, non-stick and stain resistant products, and more).
Concentrations of these contaminants was correlated to the presence of nitrates and boron and extent of unsewered residential and commercial development in the area. This indicates that septic systems might be the primary source of these contaminants on Cape Cod (though wastewater treatment plants and other sources could contribute as well).
The authors report that the presences of mixtures of these chemicals in drinking water is a cause for concern for human health impacts. They also note that knowledge of these risks is limited due to a lack of existing health-based guidelines.
Pharmaceuticals, Perfluorosurfactants, and Other Organic Wastewater Compounds in Public Drinking Water Wells in a Shallow Sand and Gravel Aquifer, Laurel A. Schaider, Ruthann A. Rudel, Janet M. Ackerman, Sarah C. Dunagan, Julia Green Brody, Science of The Total Environment, Volumes 468–469, 15 January 2014, Pages 384–393.
Video: “Is Your Drinking Water Safe? Silent Spring Institute Water Quality Research,” Dr. Laurel Schaider summarizes Silent Spring Institute’s research.