By Julie Watts

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – After years of debate, California is finally updating its 1970s Federal Chemical Regulation in order to create new safety standards for the toxic chemicals used as flame retardant on everyday products.

Governor Brown agreed the update was necessary and the regulation will now be updated to ensure the new safety standards are met. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), used primarily in furniture or other items that could easily ignite, have been known to cause health problems in humans.

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High levels of the chemicals are being found in the blood of firefighters. San Francisco firefighter Tony Stefani was captain of Rescue 1, until he had to quit due to cancer. Stefani has transitional cell carcinoma, a rare form of cancer that’s normally found in people who work in the chemical industry.

“Well Doc,” Stefani said he told his doctor, “I’m a fireman, I guess I do sort of work in the chemical industry.” As the toxic chemicals burn off in fires, they then settle in the soot that clings to firefighters’ gear. According to the EPA, PBDEs have also been found in house dust and breast milk, which could pose a dangerous threat to children.

State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said he’s been working to change the regulation for over five years because he believes this age-old regulation is poisoning the world. “The chemicals are actually more dangerous and are not saving any lives, they’re harming lives,” says Leno.

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In 2006, California adopted a ban on manufacturing or distributing any product containing certain types of PBDEs: pentaBDE or octaBDE. Since then, other states such as Hawaii, Illinois, New York and Oregon have put similar laws into place.

Stefani has worked with researchers and testified before a U.S. Senate committee in July, helping to create these new safety standards for harmful chemicals such as PBDEs. According to the Chicago Tribune, the chemical industry’s position is that flame retardants are saving lives, not harming people.

For more information about PBDEs, read the Environmental Protection Agency’s PBDEs Project Plan at

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