Photo: DFL Rep. Erik Simonson, an assistant Duluth fire chief, greets his fellow firefighters at the Capitol.
Firefighters from across the state gathered in the State Capitol hallways Monday to decry the “slow death” of their bill to phase out what they say are cancer-causing flame retardants from household furniture and other goods.
Representatives from the Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters Union went so far as to light a couch aflame last week to demonstrate what they say are the harmful effects of flame retardant chemicals relative to their inefficacy. At a time when cancer accounts for more than half of line-of-duty firefighter deaths nationwide, the union wants Minnesota to follow the suit of three other states that have begun phasing out certain flame retardants by eventually banning their manufacture and sale in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the American Chemistry Council and the North American Flame Retardant Alliance, who say Minnesota’s proposed ban goes much further than those in other states, and is too broad. Despite sailing through the Senate, the bill has not received a hearing in the House Commerce Committee. Committee Chair Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, urged the two sides to come together to strike a deal, but it appears it was unsuccessful, said MPFF President Chris Parsons, a St. Paul Fire captain.
“It didn’t go well,” Parsons said, adding that the firefighters offered up a few concessions, but wouldn’t elaborate. “We asked them to give us their bottom line, what it’ll take to reach a deal, and it was pretty clear to me that they’re content with running out the clock on this bill and not supporting it at all.”
Tony Kwilas, the chamber’s director of environmental policy, confirmed the meeting, but maintained that conversations are still ongoing.
If it doesn’t pass this year, Parsons said it’s unlikely it’ll have success next year, as long as the House remains under Republican leadership. A spokeswoman for House Speaker Kurt Daudt said last week that the bill "continues to work through the process." Parson disagreed.
"I think that the Republican House leadership right now are perfectly happy with just kind of letting this bill die a slow death like many of our colleagues are dying a slow death from cancer that is possibly caused by flame retardants," Parsons said.
Firefighters wore their helmets in the Capitol hallways as they awaited House members arriving for the afternoon session. A young firefighter with bagpipes approached Parsons and explained he was told by a Minnesota State Trooper that he was not allowed to play inside the building.
“We’re gonna play it anyway,” Parsons said.
With Parsons standing in front of him, the firefighter quickly a pair of tunes, the firefighter anthem “Going Home” and “Amazing Grace,” receiving a warning from the trooper before they stopped. It wasn’t worth getting anyone arrested, Parsons said.