Firefighter Calls for Action on Toxic Flame Retardant Chemicals

These chemicals don’t make our homes safer from fire—they pose health risks to firefighters and consumers.

The following is a transcript of the video.

Adam Cosner, Santa Clara Co. Firefighters Local 1165: I'm watching my brother and sister firefighters contracting cancer at an alarming rate right now. And that's a major concern in the fire service.

Minimizing our exposures to chemical carcinogens is of the utmost importance to us right now. And our understanding is that flame retardants have carcinogenic properties.

If we know that that chemical could be a carcinogen, there's no reason to manufacture with it, there's no reason to utilize it.

Dr. Sarah Janssen, occupational and environmental medicine, San Francisco: Flame retardants were introduced into consumer products, like electronics, upholstered furniture, mattresses, wiring in our houses.

So flame retardants have been linked to a number of different human health effects, including impacts on fertility, reproduction, brain development, immune system function, and even cancer.

Cosner: When a firefighter enters a structure fire, we're surrounded by a haze of cancer-causing toxins, including those contained in a chemical flame retardant. When they burn, these chemicals can combine to form even more toxic compounds. They seep into our protective clothing, they penetrate our breathing apparatus, and even create secondary exposures back at the station.

Dr. Janssen: Flame retardants get into our body because they evaporate really slowly from the products that they're in, and they attach to dust particles. And we can either breathe those in, or we can ingest them by touching our hands and then touching our face or our mouths with them.

Cosner: These products are added to furniture in the belief that they are making them safer from fire.

As a firefighter, I can tell you that these toxic retardants provide no meaningful fire-safety benefit.

Dr. Janssen: There is not a lot of evidence to show that these flame retardant chemicals are inhibiting fire or giving you any extra time to get out of your home.

Cosner: Historically, we fought fires that had natural fiber materials. The combustibles were wood and wool and cotton. Our furniture was made out of natural fibers. They burned clean, they burned slow, and they burned cooler.

Now our fires are plastics and synthetics and manmade materials, and because of that, everything else in the room is ignited as well.

One of the most important actions that we could take is have the lawmakers work with manufacturers in preventing them from putting the chemical flame retardants into the manufacturing process.

Dr. Janssen: A lot of major manufacturers have removed flame retardant chemicals from their products, but there are still those remaining out there who continue to use them.

It would be better if we had a standard, or no flame retardants were used in any product.

Cosner: As a firefighter I'm concerned with the exposure of my brother and sister firefighters to unnecessary chemicals and carcinogens.

As a father of two young daughters, I'm concerned with the exposure that they have from chemicals in my household. stories are available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the story was originally published by and link to the original; the story cannot be edited (beyond simple things such as time and place elements, style, and grammar); you can’t resell the story in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select stories individually; you can't republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our stories.

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