Firefighter with Breast Cancer Fights Toxic Flame Retardant Chemicals in Homes

A Bay Area (CA) woman on medical leave from her job as a firefighter has launched a popular campaign on aiming to put a stop to the use of flame retardant chemicals in furniture, which she says pose major health risks to firefighters when they combust and release toxic particles in to the air.

In May of 2012, Janette Neves Rivera was diagnosed with breast cancer that doctors believe is tied to years  spent fighting fires.  Neves Rivera, who has fought fires for over a decade, was compelled to start her petition after learning that women with the same job in her city are diagnosed with breast cancer at a rate six times higher than that of women in the general population.

“I don’t have a family history of cancer, and my diagnosis came as a huge shock to me and my kids,” said Neves Rivera, whose petition has gained over 65,000 signatures in just a few days. “Even though we talked about chemical exposure all the time while in the Fire Academy, no one ever got into the risks of cancer and other health impacts. Experts say that the flame retardant chemicals in furniture don’t even prevent fires like they’re supposed to. So why are we continuing to use them?”

Neves Rivera says the next few weeks present a unique opportunity–one that firefighters like her may not get for years to come.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), a government agency tasked with monitoring consumer products for unnecessary risk, is currently weighing a federal flammability standard that would restrict the use of flame retardants in furniture and other products sold nationwide. The public can comment on the proposed regulation until July 1.

“I’m sure a lot of people would laugh at the idea of a firefighter going up against the powerful chemical lobby, but I’m not doing this alone,” Neves Rivera added. “The response from folks so far has blown me away.  My story alone mobilized over 65,000 people to take action for firefighters across the country.  I have a lot of hope that the CPSC will do the right thing.”

Last year, The Chicago Tribune’s extensive series on health and environmental concerns of flame retardant chemicals put a public spotlight on the controversial topic.

Judy Levin, Center for Environmental Health’s (CEH) Pollution Prevention Co-Director said, “People are unknowingly and needlessly exposed to harmful flame retardant chemicals. Decades of studies have shown that these chemicals can cause cancer, reproductive health problems, and other serious health problems. The CPSC is at a pivotal moment for Americans who are demanding better fire safety without the use of toxic chemicals. Janette’s story highlighted within this petition on is a potent reminder to the CPSC that the health of our heroic firefighters and American families is more important than the financial interests of powerful chemical companies.”

Signatures on Neves Rivera’s petition are sent via email to Inez Tenenbaum, the Commission’s chairwoman.    Neves Rivera will be traveling to Washington, DC to meet with Tenenbaum and Commissioner Robert Adler at the CPSC on Monday June 24.


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