Meet Hannah Gardener | Science, Legislation & Flame Retardants

    [fa icon="user"] Janice Sina [fa icon="folder-open'] Featured Member, Legislation, Flame Retardants


    Hannah Gardener  Twiter

    “Look, Mommy!” Your four-year old rounds the corner carrying a lit votive candle that had been scenting the room from a seemingly safe spot. Surprised by your immediate yelp, she drops the candle on the couch.  Potential crisis now averted through quick thinking, you take the time to talk about fire with your child, and breathe a sigh of relief that it wasn’t worse.  It brings to mind headlines you have seen recently on flame-retardant chemicals.  The slow steady release of chemicals into the air, our homes and places where we sleep have been under heavy scrutiny for years,  because of the long-term damage they may cause. Now,  finally, they are coming to light in more mainstream media. As is often the case with products that contain multiple chemicals, from cleaners to pharmaceuticals, teasing out our understanding of the impacts on our health takes good scientists and sound science."

    It's less about fire-fighting and more about fighting an industry.   


    Meet Hannah Gardener, Savvy Women's Alliance Board Member since 2017 and a scientist who practices sound science. Most of us see scientists as their own unique entity – men and women in white lab coats hunched intensely over beakers and test tubes, or pouring through scientific journals and enlightening the scientific community with discoveries of their own. Not many of us read scientific journals. Yet the work of these scientists directly impacts us. Hannah is an epidemiologist, meaning that she studies the incidence, distribution and control of toxins and diseases in populations. Scientists like Hannah understand the harm at hand, as flame retardants are  not only semi-volatile, giving off minute amounts of toxins daily which are inhaled and ingested, but have a significant negative impact on us all because of their known neurotoxicity, and ties to carcinogens and hormone disruption.   

    Quick Summary: Flame retardants build up in our homes, have been detected in household dust, and particularly impact young children who spend a lot of time on the floor/putting their hands in their mouths. In addition, when there are fires, these chemicals add to the health burden faced by firefighters who actively push for bans on their use.  "Flame retardants" is an umbrella phrase that covers a family of chemicals. If you would like a deeper dive we recommend this post by a sister-organization Toxic Free Future. 



    These types of discoveries aren’t necessarily broadcast to the public by the chemical corporations that produce them. So in addition to wearing the white lab coat of science, Hannah has donned the business suit of advocacy. This Spring, she was asked to speak before the Rhode Island State Senate and House of Representatives concerning the passage of a bill banning flame retardants from furniture. The bill was opposed by the American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group representing chemical manufacturers dismissing concerns of health impacts.  

    It was a chance to have the voice of science heard by a wider audience. The companies who sell products and chemicals may not want to harm consumers but ultimately they have their bottom line in mind. It’s up to scientists to speak out and educate consumers.  

    Hannah is used to speaking in front of large groups but the legislative system was unfamiliar territory to her. A little nervous going in, she prepared well in advance. Her oral testimony was succinct and impactful, and she felt support and appreciation from the lawmakers, especially at the Senate hearings.

    The process was eye-opening and gave Hannah a new awareness about the difference between the way scientists and lawmakers think. While this barrier was frustrating, Hannah says it was one of the most exciting and fulfilling things she has done in her career. “We write research papers that have recommendations in them but advocacy doesn’t happen often enough.”

    Knowing that politics was politics, Hannah realized this didn’t mean the bill was going to pass. “You just don’t know what goes on behind the scenes.” Because while the Senate appreciated what she was saying, she also knew what she was facing was economic political power playing out before her.

    “It’s hard to be a scientist among lawmakers, but I felt this was an opportunity for me to have more of an impact.”


    The smallest state in the nation passed the bill, restricting flame retardants not just in furniture, but in children's toys as well.  Passionate scientists like Hannah who push themselves outside of their comfort zone to do good are working alongside organizations like Clean Water Action and the International Association Firefighters.    They are not alone.  As of this post, there are 39 bills in 17 states pushing for bans and restrictions on flame retardants found in a spectrum of products that we bring into our homes, schools and work.  

    We hope that reading stories like Hannah's will provide inspiration for you to find your cause, push your comfort zone and find your way to protect.  We all have a voice, which we can exercise in many different ways.   

    The Savvy Women's Alliance's purpose is to create local community chapters, so you can learn how to create little changes in your home, participate in your community, or even (if you want) learn more about what is happening in your state. 

    Find A Chapter Near You

    Janice Sina

    Written by Janice Sina

    Janice Sina, former biology teacher turned veterinary assistant, observes and writes about nature, human and otherwise. She lives in East Haddam CT, where she strives to tread lightly on this Earth with her husband, her pets, and several thousand honeybees. She is currently putting the finishing touches on her first book, Songlines in the Key of B.

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