Flame Retardant Toxicity Testing Will Not Be Required by EPA

Federal environmental regulators have decided not to require manufacturers of three commonly used flame retardants to conduct toxicity tests, rejecting a petition filed by a consumer group that highlighted the potential risks the chemicals may pose to humans and the environment. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a prepublication copy of a decision (PDF) on April 6, which announced that the agency will not require toxicity or exposure tests on chlorinated tris flame retardants, which are used to manufacture foam for furniture, paint and textiles. The exempted group of three flame retardants are known as chlorinated phosphate ester (CPE) cluster chemicals.

An environmental coalition, headed by Earthjustice and five other environmental groups, filed a petition January 6, calling on the EPA to force manufacturers to conduct the safety testing, warning that the chemicals may pose unreasonable side effects.

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Past studies have linked various categories of flame retardants to side effects ranging from increased risk of thyroid cancer and increased risk of preterm birth.

The EPA said the petition did not provide enough evidence to support a ban on the flame retardants. The agency reviewed data from scientific studies, conclusions reached by the state of California and the European Union, as well as preliminary assessment information released by the EPA in August 2015.

The decision indicates the EPA also used computer modeling and other analytical approaches to evaluate the safety and effects to the environment posed by the flame retardants.

In 2014, California enacted new regulations focusing on flame retardants. The rules allowed furniture manufactures to use other means, aside from toxic flame retardants, to ensure furniture meets flammability requirements. Many hoped the rest of the country would follow suit, as manufacturers focused on meeting California manufacturing standards.

While the EPA left the possibility open in its recent ruling that it could review more data in the future, it ruled the current data was not enough to determine the chemicals posed a risk to human health or the environment. The agency also did not make a determination on whether the chemicals mimic, alter or block hormone functions.

A study published earlier this year indicated that more than 90% of adults and children in the U.S. have high levels of flame retardant chemicals in the bodies. Those chemicals include the controversial chlorinated tris the environmental coalition urged the EPA to rule against.

Another study indicated high levels of flame retardants are also found in household dust throughout most homes across the country.

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