Looming bill to ban flame retardants would lead to more fire deaths
Without flame retardants, many household items and equipment would turn minor fires, like a fallen cigarette, into major fires that would result in property damage, injury, and even death.
A proposed New York State ban on retarders has caused major concern among fire prevention advocates, as well as advocates for underrepresented populations living in public housing, who suffer more deaths due to fires, statistically.
The prohibition, subject of legislation (S.4630-A / A.5418) which is expected to be voted on in Albany as early as this week, would ban certain vital flame retardants in residential environments – products that provide an important layer of fire protection by helping to stop or delay the onset or spread of fires, providing rescue time to escape a fire, according to the American Chemistry Council.
If enacted, the ban would impact a wide range of everyday household items, including computers, televisions, cell phones, video game consoles, children’s toys, electronics used for infants. , exercise equipment such as stationary bikes and treadmills, sofas and mattresses. would literally become the fuel for fires in the five boroughs.
The bill is more confusing to safety advocates, as it appears to have originated in a push to counter insurance claims from firefighters who are exposed to the fumes. Safety advocates believe the biggest threat, not only to firefighters but to the general population, is more fires due to lack of retarders.
“The threat of fires is something we live with every day as residents of social housing,” said Claudia Coger, president of the Astoria Home Tenants Association. “It is deeply troubling that lawmakers are considering taking measures that could make the spread of fires easier and even more difficult for residents to escape in a life-and-death situation.
“I have lived in social housing for over fifty years and fires have always been a major concern for me and my neighbors, which is why any legislation that would exacerbate this fear makes no sense,” said Paulette Shomo, former president of the Marble Hill Tenant Association. “When it comes to fire safety and response time, every second counts, and it is clear that this legislation would dramatically reduce the time NYCHA residents have to leave our apartments, threatening our safety and exposing the elderly to a particularly high risk.
Research has shown that fire death rates are higher in states with higher percentages of African-American people, low-income, and smokers; and to have less formal education.
Fire safety is also a crucial issue for seniors. Older adults continue to suffer a disproportionate share of fire deaths. Although adults 65 years of age and over represent only 16% of the U.S. population, data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) shows that individuals 65 and over 33% of fire deaths. According to projections by the US Census Bureau, by 2060, the number of people aged 65 or over is expected to be 95 million, nearly double the amount in 2017. Of the 114 civilian home fires in New York City in 2020, 43 were older adults.
Opposition to NYCHA’s tenant legislation comes just weeks after a coalition of consumer and business product safety advocates warned of the dangers associated with the legislation.
“A ban on life-saving flame retardants would demonstrate a complete disregard for the safety of our seniors and low-income neighbors, who are most vulnerable to the tragic and all-too-common consequences of fires,” said Bishop Mitchell Taylor , General manager. of the non-profit organization Urban Upbound. “We cannot allow our fellow New Yorkers to be put at risk simply because they lack the political clout and social media presence that other interest groups have at their disposal.”
The call from tenant leaders and advocates comes a week after a coalition of business and consumer product safety advocates warned of the dangers of the proposed ban on flame retardants. This coalition, still in formation, includes the American Chemistry Council, the Home Appliance Manufacturers Association, the Business Council of New York State, the Chemical Fabrics and Film Association, the International Sleep Products Association, the International Technology Industry Council ( ITI), the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, National Federation of Independent Business / NY, Polyurethane Foam Association and Upstate United.