Protecting kids from toxics: Is fourth time the charm?

Sharon Nelson, Senate Democrats' new leader, vows a new push to ban two flame retardants.
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Sen. Sharon Nelson

Sharon Nelson, Senate Democrats' new leader, vows a new push to ban two flame retardants.

The authors of three failed attempts to ban toxic chemical from fireproofed children's furniture will try again in January.

"Every year, the American Chemical Association and the Association of Washington Business worked to beat us," said Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, who pushed such bill last spring in the Senate. "We have 'fire safety' that is false. ... We have to get off the toxic treadmill. We cannot have the American Chemical Council tell us what is safe for our children."

Last spring, the Association of Washington Business and the Washington Retail Association said their groups do not want to harm their costumers, but argued that a national law is preferable to a patchwork of different laws in different states.

The to-be-resurrected bill would ban the chemicals TCEP and TDCPP, which are found in upholstered furniture and children's products such as baby carriers, changing pads and car seats. While they slow the spread of flames, TCEP and TDCPP give off toxic fumes when burned.

In 2008, the Legislature passed a law to ban certain chemicals from children's products. That law also required the Washington Department of Ecology to create a list of ”chemicals of high concern to children" for health reasons in 2011 to be tracked in children's products. Sixty-six chemicals ended up on that list, including TCEP.

Last March, the Washington House passed a bill — mostly Democrats for and mostly Republicans against — to add TDCPP to the list of chemicals of high concern to children. That bill also would have banned the sales and distribution of children's items and upholstered furniture containing more than 100 parts per million of TCEP and TDCPP in Washington. Meanwhile, the bill would set in motion bans on the other 65 chemicals of high concern to children for upholstered furniture and children's products, but it would allow exceptions to be granted if no safer alternatives can be found. The decisions on exemptions would be up to the Ecology Department.

At the same time, Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale and chairman of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, proposed a substitute version of the House bill, which would keep the ban on TCEP and TDCPP in children's items. But his measure would eliminate any general ban by the ecology department on the larger list of chemicals of high concern to children.

The different bills then stalled went last session.

Nelson and Rep. Kevin Van Wege, D-Sequim and author of the original House bill, want to revive it in the upcoming session.

At a Thursday press conference, Nelson, who was just picked as the Senate minority leader by her fellow Democrats, the Washington Toxics Coalition and the Washington State Council of Firefighters released the results of two recent studies to support reviving the bill.

A Duke University study finished last summer showed that 90 percent of children's furniture contain flame retardants that can be linked to children's health problems, said Erika Schreder, science director of the Washington Toxics Coalition. That result came from testing 42 pieces of children's furniture from 13 states and Canada; 38 were found to have toxic flame retardants. The chemicals have been linked to increased risks of cancer and fertility problems, Schreder said.

Michael White, representing the state firefighters council, cited an October federal Centers for Disease Control study that showed firefighters have increased risk of cancers due to toxic fumes — from chemicals such as TCEP and TDCPP — inhaled while tackling fires. The study showed a firefighter has a 62 percent greater chance of getting throat center, a 27 percent greater chance of getting kidney cancer and a 39 cancer greater chance of getting oral cancer than an average person. Significant percentages of those cases are fatal, he said.

On Thursday, Ericksen said he is OK with TCEP and TDCPP being on the lists of chemicals of high concern to children. But he balked at having the other 65 chemicals and any future chemicals on the list if the Ecology Department has the final say on banning them. He wants the authority to ban individual chemicals from these items to stay with the Legislature.

He also voiced concern about the state banning chemicals in furnishings in Washington when those same chemicals are allowed in the same furnishings in neighboring states.

All this sets the stage for Round Four in early 2014.

For exclusive coverage of the state government, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8