In today’s policy arena, one of the most common threats to sound science and the interests of consumers is the misguided push by some to ban, restrict and regulate entire classes of chemicals, regardless of the differences between different members of the class. Individual chemicals are often unique, with differing characteristics, structures and intended uses. Painting all chemicals that share some generic trait with a broad brush makes bad policy that can prevent consumers from accessing important, safe and beneficial products that they need. Unfortunately, misunderstanding about chemistry is common and helps promote this blanket approach to chemical regulation.
Last week, an important report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) made headlines for rejecting a single class approach to assessing the potential hazards of organohalogen flame retardants (OFRs). Flame retardants play a pivotal role in public safety for families and businesses across the world, reducing fire risk and helping to ensure product safety. It is critical that any well-meaning regulation of these chemicals is scientifically sound.
This report is an important development in the interests of consumer protection, and it confirms what scientists, regulators and other authorities bodies have already determined: it is not scientifically accurate or appropriate to make broad conclusions about or impose a “one-size-fits-all” regulatory approach on these chemicals. Flame retardants have different physical, chemical and toxicological profiles, meaning no two chemicals are exactly alike and are not universally interchangeable. In fact, key differences between OFRs are highlighted within assessments conducted by regulatory agencies such as the U.S. EPA, Environment and Climate Change Canada and Health Canada, the European Chemicals Agency, and the European Food Safety Authority.
Chemistry plays a critical role in helping people live safe, healthy lives each and every day. Additionally, chemical manufacturing is one of the most regulated industries around the world. In the U.S. alone, more than a dozen federal laws and multiple federal agencies govern the safe manufacture and use of chemicals.
By recommending a sub-class or “cluster approach,” the NASEM report demonstrates the importance of making decisions based on sound science. Fires remain a serious threat to human health and the environment. Flame retardants provide an important layer of fire protection that helps save lives and property, while also helping products meet key fire safety standards.