Non-toxic camp tents? Such will be the case in Michigan by February, thanks to a new bill signed into law last November, removing an outdated fire standard requiring manufacturers to treat tent material with toxic flame retardants.
The new law will remove one of the last remaining roadblocks to assuring all tents in the US are produced without flame retardants. Michigan was one of six states (California, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York) with antiquated 1970s-era standards still on the books. In 2023, Michigan joined California in successfully reforming these laws to pave the way for non-toxic tents to be available nationally.
The previous standard was a holdover from when tents were made of wax- or oil-coated cotton. Decades later, tents are now made of much different material. Studies have shown flame retardants do little to reduce flammability but produce toxic fumes when burned.
The Ecology Center has been working to remove unnecessary flame retardants from stuff and the material economy for many decades. Most flame retardants are not strongly bound to the material they are applied to, so they easily migrate out and become airborne via dust. Flame retardants bioaccumulate within the body and can disrupt hormone function and cause cancer.
Michigan State Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) introduced the policy change in early 2023.
"We know that the [previous] requirements don't make lightweight tents significantly more fire resistant, and we know that the chemicals used to meet the old standard are harmful to people and wildlife," said Sen. Irwin in a press release in May 2023. "You should be able to go camping in Pure Michigan without being exposed to persistent, bioaccumulative poisons."
The Ecology Center applauds this important step in protecting Michiganders from unnecessary exposures to hazardous flame retardants, though there are still many sources of these chemicals in commonly-used products. Still, this bill marks an important achievement in removing toxic chemicals from the products we use.