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Lawmakers poised to ban some flame retardants due to health concerns

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After a full-court press from Minnesota firefighters, a House committee has approved a compromise measure that would ban several fire retardants used on furniture and clothing, because they are considered hazardous to the health of first responders.

The Minnesota Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill earlier in the session to phase out 10 flame-retardant chemicals that the state's firefighters union said were not effective in slowing the spread of fires, but contain toxins that are causing higher rates of cancer among firefighters, Session Daily reports.

Some business interests, including the manufacturers of the flame retardants and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, opposed the measure, saying more study is needed before enacting sweeping bans of the chemicals.

The bill was stalled in the House until firefighters staged an impromptu rally at the Capitol last week and brought out the big guns – actually, bagpipes – to get House members' attention, according to MinnPost.

Bagpiper creates some noise for Flame Retardant bill as House members arrive pic.twitter.com/FKMQ0cfTWz

— John Croman (@JohnCroman) May 4, 2015

The House commerce committee reached a compromise with the firefighters and the Chamber of Commerce Monday to outlaw four of the 10 chemicals.

The bill would also require the state health commissioner and fire marshal to study the dangers of other flame retardants, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

Chris Parsons, president of the Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters, said he has mixed feelings about the compromise measure, according to Session Daily.

“I’m not happy about having to back off to the four chemicals,” Parsons said. “It still gives us the strongest law in the country. We’ll be continuing to push it further.”

A professor in the department of public health at the State University of New York-Albany, Susan Shaw, told the committee firefighters inhale and absorb a "toxic soup" of chemicals when they fight fires, and the smoke from flame-retardants is especially harmful, the Star Tribune reports.

She said the rate of some cancers among firefighters is almost double that of the general population, and has been increasing rapidly since fire retardants were introduced, according to MinnPost.

“Cancer is a looming personal catastrophe for each and every firefighter,” she said. (Listen to an interview with Shaw on MPR News)

The measure needs to go through another House committee before reaching the floor for an expected vote on Friday. Then the Senate would need to consider the modified version.

If approved, the ban on the four flame retardants in children's products, furniture and mattresses would be effective July 1, 2018.

You can see a list of the chemicals involved here.

Oregon, Maine and Vermont have also passed measures to outlaw flame retardants, according to the Star Tribune.

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