The California EPA has reported that the highest tissue concentrations of PBDEs are found in California aquatic life, with rising levels in San Francisco Bay harbor seals. Long believes "this is one of the biggest toxic threats facing Californians today".
This is Leno's second attempt at passing a bill involving these particular issues. The first, SB 706, introduced last year, sought to directly ban the use of toxic fire retardants. SB 706 was named the Crystal Golden-Jefferson Act, in memory of a 41-year-old firefighter who died of work-related, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. It is believed she developed the condition after breathing in dioxin (a highly toxic carcinogen) that was released from burning flame-retardants. Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Maine have already passed bills banning dioxin and have started phasing it out.
Banning chemicals is hard to do. Richard Holober of the Consumer Federation of California says that the petrochemical industry will slightly alter a banned chemical, "sort of chasing one version after another." In the United States, chemicals are mass-produced and distributed until they are found to be dangerous. In Europe, chemicals must be proven safe first.
The most outspoken opposition to both bills, SB 706 and SB 772, is a group called Citizens for Fire Safety. The group, headed by Jacobson, argues that fire retardants saves lives, noting that since California established TB 117 California structure fires have dropped by about 60 percent. Records from the National Fire Protection Association show a drop of 32 percent between 1980 and 2000. Yet other states, including New York, show a drop of 40 percent without a similar fire regulation. The drop can easily be ascribed to an increase in smoke detectors, better education, and more regulations on cigarettes: the number one fire instigator.
Citizens for Fire Safety's funding is suspicious. Its Web site clearly states "a portion of our funding&ldots;comes from various chemical industry leaders." Indeed, Jacobson says he has no problems accepting funding from the same companies that manufacture the chemicals in question. Leno believes Citizens for Fire Safety is a "concerted business effort to confuse the public."
This nonprofit front is just one of the extraordinary efforts of the chemical companies to stop bills of this nature. According to Holober, the bromine companies spent between $6 million and $9 million on lobbyists and efforts to derail SB 706. This is the largest amount spent by a consumer-interest group in lobbying efforts, Leno and Holober say.
Public records show that the two biggest lobbying efforts on behalf of Citizens for Fire Safety represent the Citizens for Fire Safety Institute, (which is funded by chemical corporations) and a PR group representing the Bromine Science and Environmental Forum. The BSEF represents all the major brominated flame-retardant companies.
Joe Kerr, president of Orange County Professional Firefighters Association Local 3631, makes more reasonable objections to SB 772. Kerr opposes the deregulation until "all the principals are brought to the table. Get the burn ward doctors, and the environmentalists, EPA, and Mark Leno together because there are good arguments on both sides." In the meantime, Kerr doesn't want to "throw the baby out with the bathwater." He also voices concern that some consumers will stop buying California products if the state's fire standard is lowered.
SB 772 is a deregulatory, pro-environment bill that gives the market the option to decide. Any product that does not meet regulations will be labeled accordingly.