On March 15, hundreds of firefighters will gather at the State Capitol to rally in support of a bill to ban six flame-retardant chemicals. Firefighters face incredible immediate danger as they battle fires. And they are simultaneously exposed to smoldering toxic chemicals such as flame retardants, creating an alarming risk for cancer and other serious health effects. Firefighter mesothelioma diagnoses are more than twice that of the general population; esopheogeal cancer rates are 62 percent higher.

Sadly, ineffective and toxic flame-retardant chemicals are widely present in our homes and bodies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified flame retardants in the bodies of more than 90 percent of Americans. These chemicals are thyroid and hormone disrupters and are linked to an array of birth defects, cancer, reproductive, developmental, immune system, learning and behavioral issues. They are persistent in the environment, degrade into carcinogenic dioxins, and are found in products like furniture upholstery, polyurethane foam, changing table pads, toddler furniture and breast-feeding pillows. They migrate into dust and into the human body as children play on the floor and put fingers in mouths. Studies have found two to five times higher levels of these chemicals in toddlers than in their parents.

Last year with bipartisan support, Minnesota banned some of these toxic chemicals. I applaud our own south-metro Sen. Dan Hall and Rep. Roz Peterson for supporting the 2015 Firefighter and Children Health Protection Act. Now let’s support the 2016 bill to ban the remaining six chemicals taken out of the final bill due to chemical industry opposition. Our homes should be chemically safe for our families — and for firefighters at the unfortunate times their assistance is needed to protect our lives and property.

Sandie Birdsall, Burnsville

LANDS’ END CONTROVERSY

What, really, was so offensive about the Steinem interview?

A March 1 letter (“Maybe stick to the core business?”) addressed the Gloria Steinem interview in the Lands’ End catalog. The writer noted that the controversy began when the same interview was published on the company’s website. According to the writer, the Lands’ End site “was promptly ‘scrubbed’ of the offending material and replaced by an apology to those customers who were seriously miffed.”

I’m still trying to figure out what the writer found so offensive. Was it the question about the key challenges women in the workplace face today? Was it the mention of Steinem starting the ERA Coalition, the effort to amend the Constitution to state that women have equal rights and that discrimination against women is not allowed, specifically using the term “women” in the amendment? Was it the reference to the fact that Gloria started Ms. magazine, a publication that for the time period addressed real issues in women’s lives and featured female fiction writers and poets from other countries?

I found nothing offensive in the interview.

This situation with Lands’ End reminds me of the controversy J.C. Penney encountered a few years ago. The company had selected Ellen DeGeneres as its spokesperson, and the One Million Moms group started a campaign asking people to boycott Penney’s because Ellen is gay. In the end, J.C. Penney stood by its business decision to have Ellen represent it. I wish Lands’ End had done the same.

Teresa Maki, Minnetonka

MINNEAPOLIS SCHOOLS

That supposed good news comes with a caveat or two

Recently the president and CEO of AchieveMpls asked the public to congratulate students, teachers, staff, administrators and “external partners” (of which she is one) for the rising graduation rates in some Minneapolis high schools (“Coverage should reflect the positive trends; they’re real,” Readers Write, Feb. 25). She cited Roosevelt, which improved its rate from 58 percent to 68 percent last year. Impressive. However, being of a suspicious nature, I researched a more telling metric: proficiency. (In other words, are the students actually learning anything?) According to the Minnesota Report Card (http://rc.education.state.mn.us/#), from 2014 to 2015, while Roosevelt was graduating 68 percent of its students, their proficiency scores remained dismal. Reading proficiency dropped from 28 percent to 23 percent. Math proficiency plummeted from 20 percent to 15 percent. Science proficiency actually increased from 9 percent to a whopping 12 percent. One has to wonder: Is it the administration’s goal to educate more students or simply hand out more diplomas?

Ryan Sheahan, Minneapolis

GOVERNMENT RESPONSIVENESS

Some bad examples were set in Dakota County and Stillwater

At the Dakota County Board’s legislative workshop on Feb. 26, a hot topic revolved around reforming the governance structure of the Metropolitan Council, the regional planning agency guiding and funding everything from transportation to housing to water treatment to regional parks.

County Board members and legislators focused on regional governments as essentially constituents of the Met Council. Many in attendance believe that the council lacks responsiveness and accountability to them as direct constituents. It was suggested that changes to the membership structure would result in a more responsive, more accountable and more effective Met Council.

During the Lebanon Hills Park controversy, many hundreds of citizens wrote letters, made phone calls and attended meetings opposing the county’s development plan for the park. Regardless, the majority of board members voted in favor of the master plan despite the unprecedented public opposition and that of the two board members closest to the park.

Responsive government means more than simply listening to constituents, then telling them how things are going to be. It means involving constituents in decisionmaking on issues they care about; it means taking seriously feedback from the public.

The Dakota County Board seeks greater responsiveness from the Met Council and feels a change may be the answer. If board members had modeled that same responsiveness to constituents who elected them, then at least for Lebanon Hills, it would have netted very different results. Responsive government begins at the local level. There are four County Board seats up for election this November.

Holly Jenkins, Eagan

• • •

Many are dumbfounded with the Stillwater school board’s decision last week to close three elementary schools. The superintendent’s argument for achieving efficiencies by consolidating into fewer mega-elementary schools prevailed. There was no mention that two schools going dark, Marine and Withrow, are the two top-performing elementary schools of nine in the district. Marine ranks No. 5 of 820 in Minnesota based on MCA-III test scores in 2015. The profound lack of vision and perspective by the superintendent and her board will not be lost on district voters at the next election.

Charlie Corcoran, Stillwater

• • •

As a Stillwater Area High School alumna, I am beyond disgusted with the five Stillwater school board members who voted to close three elementary schools, even though the majority of their constituents opposed the plan. Good luck trying to pass another levy for many, many years.

Heidi Seltz, Afton