A Catholic MP has urged the Government to do more to protect firefighters, while warning that chemicals in everyday items, such as sofas and our clothes, pose a major risk to public health.
Pointing out that ‘chemical production has increased fiftyfold since 1950, and will triple by 2050’, Mary Creagh, MP for Wakefield, warned that while the public trusts these chemicals are safe, the reality is that most of them are not tested for safety.
Writing in The Wakefield Express, Ms Creagh, who is chair of the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), explained that flame retardants are a major health risk and have been linked to cancers in firefighters. She said analysis from Scotland found that firefighters typically have more than one type of cancer that develops at a younger age.
‘It is not right that public servants who put themselves in harm’s way for our sake are not protected from chemicals from fires. So my committee has called on the Government to update Social Security Regulations so that the cancers most commonly suffered by firefighters (colon, brain, leukaemia, lymphoma, bladder, kidney, and prostate) are presumed to be industrial injuries,’ she writes.
‘Firefighters would then be eligible for the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefits Scheme. I do hope the government acts soon on our recommendations.’
The EAC recently published a report into toxic chemicals, which shows that ‘dangerous chemicals have been found in our homes, children’s toys and food packaging,’ Ms Creagh revealed.
‘We don’t know how these chemicals interact with us, or each other, but some have the potential to cause disease, disability and death.’
She explained that UK laws permit the use of flame retardants in sofas beds and baby cots, despite almost all other countries phasing them out. These chemicals, over time, rub off, becoming dust around homes, which is then breathed in by whoever occupies the house, Ms Creagh warned.
These chemicals ‘then stay in our bodies and tests have shown that UK mums have some of the highest concentrations of flame retardants in their breast milk in the world,’ she revealed.
‘These flame retardants can also make fires more dangerous as they increase the toxicity of smoke in a fire, by releasing hydrogen cyanide which kills people very quickly.’
Ms Creagh said that the Government had consulted on reducing the use of flame retardants in furniture in 2014 and 2016 and now, after an ‘extraordinary’ three-year delay, their consultation response has been published.
‘Their plan?’ Ms Creagh writes. ‘More delay and another consultation!
‘My cross-party committee recommended they should be removed from UK furniture and we follow EU and US flammability regulations which are based on a common sense approach, rather than industry lobbying,’ she added.
Picture: Firefighters tackle a massive fire. (Jit Chattopadhyay/Zuma Press/PA).