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Flame Retardants in Building Insulation

Californians for Toxic Free Fire Safety support AB 127, an historic bill that allows the California Building Standards Commission to modernize the California building insulation fire safety rules so builders can have a choice to use toxic free building insulation.

This is an urgent matter because of the emerging scientific studies that link persistent toxic flame retardant chemicals found in some insulation to lower IQ in children, infertility, and cancer.  As we know, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, difficulty getting pregnant, and cancer are all on the rise. The potential that these chemicals help “trigger” these illnesses in some people can be preventable when we can identify the chemicals that cause these triggers and then remove them from our environment.

These chemicals are virtually unregulated in the marketplace due to a failed federal chemicals policy. They are marketed to manufacturers of products without the full information on health hazards linked to the chemicals. Due in part to lobbying from the chemical industry, some regulations have been put in place that, de facto, force businesses to use products with these toxic flame retardant chemicals in them.

Most people are not aware that the foam insulation in the walls of their homes and businesses contain this toxic chemical. The chemical does not stop fires, nor does it promise to do that. Rather the chemical manufacturers promote the chemical as slowing fires, although recent studies demonstrate that there is no additional fire safety benefit with the addition of the toxic flame retardant chemical in foam insulation. In the rare instance when buildings do burn, so will the toxic flame retardant chemicals, putting firefighters as well as building inhabitants and the community in further  harm’s way.

The most common toxic flame retardant chemical found in building insulation, HBCD,  is linked to so much human health hazard, that it has recently been added to an international Treaty, the Stockholm Convention, supported by 120  nations. The listing requires labeling new building insulation products containing HBCD which helps countries separate dangerous products and wastes. Delegates rejected a proposal to allow recycling of products containing HBCD – a practice prohibited by the Convention. That is because when the products containing HBCD end up in landfills, the chemicals can leach out in aquifers and soil, contaminating nearby communities.

In fact, HBCD doesn’t just create a hazard at the end of its lifecycle, but throughout it- from the communities located where HBCD containing products are made, to the workers making them, to those installing or living with HBCD insulation in the walls, to the firefighters and building inhabitants that are exposed to toxic fumes from burning insulation. From start to finish  building insulation with HBCD in it can spread harmful toxic chemicals near and far in our communities. As a result, HBCD can also be found in environmental samples such as birds, mammals, fish and other aquatic organisms as well as soil and sediment.

Here in California, we have an opportunity to allow our California Building Standards Commission to support builders to maintain overall building fire safety while giving full consideration to the long-term human and ecological health impacts associated with chemical flame retardants.

AB 127  ensures that there is adequate protection from fires that travel between walls and into confined areas, including crawl spaces and attics, for occupants of the building and any firefighters who may be in the building during a fire.

We urge our California legislators to wholeheartedly support AB 127, so we can create a safer environment for workers, builders, families, businesses and all communities in California. AB 127 is a smart move in the right direction for building the best buildings  in all of our communities for generations to come.