ACC division urges healthcare group to reconsider flame retardant ban

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WASHINGTON — A division of the American Chemistry Council is urging Kaiser Permanente to reverse its decision to stop buying flame retardant office and hospital furniture in a June 17 letter, arguing that the chemicals play an important role in reducing fires and protecting the sick and elderly.

“Flame retardants are an important tool in the fire safety tool box. They represent an important layer of fire protection in hospitals, health care facilities, and medical offices,” ACC President and CEO Cal Dooley wrote in the letter on behalf of the North American Flame Retardant Alliance (NAFRA). “The use of flame retardants in upholstered furniture can help prevent fires from starting and/or slow the rate at which small fires become big fires, providing valuable time for persons to escape danger.”

The NAFRA letter notes that the decision by Kaiser Permanente is based on the potential health effects of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) — a group of flame retardants that are no longer on the market — and urges the health care company to “give further consideration to the recently announced policy for purchasing upholstered furniture” and noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently identified 50 flame retardants that would protect people from fires while posing little to no risk to human health.

In the letter, Dooley and NAFRA members also requested a meeting with Kaiser Chairman and CEO Bernard Tyson to further discuss the scientific evidence showing the role of flame retardants in saving lives.

Out of concern for exposing patients and clients to increasing levels of potentially harmful or toxic chemicals in the environment, Kaiser, the largest nonprofit health management organization in the United States, announced June 3 it will stop buying furniture made with polyurethane that contains any type of chemical flame retardant, even those that are federally approved.

Kaiser spends about $30 million each year furnishing its 38 hospitals and 600 medical office buildings in eight states and the District of Columbia.