Chris Parsons, president of the Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters Union, testifies on behalf of a measure to phase out some flame-retardant chemicals.
The state’s firefighters, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and chemical companies have cut a deal over a bill to phase out flame retardant chemicals from furniture and other household products following an impasse that led to protests at the Capitol.
After an hour of testimony, the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee passed a bill that would phase out the manufacture and sale of four flame retardant chemicals. A Senate version that passed last month phased out 10 chemicals. Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters union president Chris Parsons said that although they’re not ecstatic about the bill, if passed, it will still be the most restrictive flame retardant bill in the country.
“We are leaving off the list six carcinogenic flame retardants, so in that regards I’m not pleased about it,” said Parsons, a St. Paul Fire captain. “But does it move the conversation further? Does it get us closer to our goal? Yes. Do we have to wait until sometime in the future to get those chemicals removed? In the meantime will firefighters continue to be exposed? That I’m not happy about.”
The deal came one week to the day after firefighters filled the Capitol hallways to decry what they called the “slow death” of the flame retardant bill, which at the time sailed through the Senate 59-2 but did not receive a hearing in the House Commerce Committee. The amended measure will ban the manufacture and wholesale distribution of four flame-retardant chemicals used in furniture, textiles, mattresses and children’s products. Firefighters say the chemicals show little effectiveness in slowing or stopping the spread of flames, while giving off toxic chemicals they say are attributable to increased cases of cancer in firefighters. Nationwide, cancer attributes for half of line-of-duty deaths among professional firefighters.
The initial measure was opposed by the Chamber, the American Chemistry Council and the North American Flame Retardant Alliance stood in opposition to the bill, saying the proposed ban was far too broad.
"It’s important to remember that when you start talking about chemical regulation and specifically flame retardants, that one size does not fit all." said Tony Kwilas, Director of Environmental Policy at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
Rep. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, a former firefighter who sponsored the bill, said the negotiations were a drawn-out debate which ultimately focused on which chemicals were most dangerous, and which were still in use.
“I don’t think anybody’s really happy in this group, which probably means it’s close to pretty good legislation, and I think it’s as far as we can get this time,” he said.