Government of Canada announces action plan to protect firefighters from harmful chemicals
August 11, 2021 – Ottawa (Ontario)
Fighting fires is essential and dangerous work. In addition to the physical hazards faced by firefighters, some household products become more dangerous when they burn. In particular, firefighters can be exposed to toxic substances, such as certain harmful flame retardants in upholstered furniture, mattresses, and electronic devices, when responding to a fire. The Government of Canada has heard concerns from firefighters and stakeholders, and is taking action to protect these first responders in their lifesaving work.
Today, the Minister of Health, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, announced a comprehensive action plan to protect firefighters from harmful chemicals released during household fires.
The plan includes actions to:
- Ban harmful chemical flame retardants;
- Support the development and use of safe flame retardants, including less harmful alternatives to chemical flame retardants in household products;
- Conduct research and monitoring to assess levels of exposure;
- Identify practices for firefighters to reduce harm, such as improvements to personal protective equipment; and
- Share information and raise awareness.
Federal action to address flame retardants is part of the Chemicals Management Plan, a Government of Canada initiative aimed at reducing the risks posed by chemicals to Canadians and their environment. The Government of Canada will work with stakeholders as it implements its plan and continue to inform the public on milestones moving forward.
“Firefighters put themselves in harm’s way to protect us. Today, we’re announcing measures to protect them too. This plan includes actions which will ban harmful chemicals and promote more information sharing, so that we can continue working with firefighters and industry to keep first responders safe.”
– The Hon. Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health
“We have listened to the concerns expressed by firefighters about the risks they face in their work. That is why the Government of Canada is taking necessary action to protect firefighters and reduce their exposure to chemical flame retardants. We will continue to work with stakeholders as we identify best practices and implement measures to reduce harm for firefighters.”
– The Hon. Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
“The Government of Canada has been a strong advocate in improving the safety of our firefighters, especially considering the dangers of their job that they face every day. By taking these necessary actions to reduce the risks in the use of flame retardants, we can further support our firefighters and the incredible work they do to protect our communities.”
– Terry Beech, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (B.C.)
“Firefighters face many dangers due to smoke exposure during a fire. Chemical flame retardants in furniture create a blacker, thicker, and more toxic smoke and offer no benefit to firefighters, or to families trying to escape a burning home. The International Association of Fire Fighters is encouraged that the Government of Canada is taking action to ban harmful flame retardants, researching the impacts of burning flame retardants on firefighters, and studying how to reduce our exposure. We are also encouraged that the Government has produced guidance to help manufacturers, importers, advertisers, and sellers of consumer products make their products without chemical flame retardants. Let’s support businesses in adopting these practices whenever possible.”
– Mike Carter, District Vice President, International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF)
“I would like to thank the Government of Canada for listening to the voice of firefighters on the risks we face on a daily basis while performing our jobs to protect communities and citizens. Fires today burn hotter and faster than ever before, aided by the chemical soup of toxins contained within our homes and businesses. Chemical flame retardants designed to keep us safe can actually contribute negatively once the product combusts. These steps will serve to enhance the use of safe flame retardants and to work with firefighters to reduce the dangers we face every day.”
– Gord Ditchburn, President, British Columbia Professional Fire Fighters’ Association
“We know that people in North Vancouver want to protect their neighbours, including their firefighters who are there when needed. We are pleased that the Government of Canada is taking action that will make our job less dangerous by reducing harmful chemical flame retardants in furniture – chemicals that end up in the smoke during fires. Actions such as mandatory labelling of certain products will help Vancouverites – and all Canadians – make informed choices about the products they buy.”
– Ryan Stewart, President, District of North Vancouver Fire Fighters, Local 1183
Flame retardants are made up of various types of chemicals that are used in or applied to products. They are used to keep items from catching on fire and to limit the spread of fire. They can be found in a variety of products, including upholstered furniture, mattresses, electronics, textiles, and foam and rubber products.
To ensure that harmful chemicals are identified, the Government of Canada has already assessed more than 150 flame retardants, taken action to restrict or phase out twelve harmful flame-retardant substances, and proposed to take action on an additional six flame retardants.
The Chemicals Management Plan brings together various federal chemicals programs under a single strategy aimed at assessing environmental and human health risks posed by chemical substances and organisms, and managing toxic substances according to the risks they present to human health and the environment.
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change
Environment and Climate Change Canada
819-938-3338 or 1-844-836-7799 (toll‑free)
Office of the Honourable Patty Hajdu
Minister of Health
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