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Memorandum of Disapproval of a Bill Concerning Government Ban of Tris in Sleepwear

November 08, 1978


I am withholding my approval of S. 1503, a bill which would authorize Government indemnification, upon a judgment by the U.S. Court of Claims, of businesses which sustained losses as a result of the ban on the use of the chemical Tris in children's sleepwear.

In 1971 and 1974 the Government established strict fabric flammability standards on children's sleepwear to protect children against burns. To meet these flammability standards, the clothing industry treated fabric by using substantial quantities of the flame-retardant chemical Tris. In 1975, information became available that Tris was a carcinogenic risk to humans. Some firms stopped using Tris after this test information became available, but other firms did not.

On April 8, 1977, the Consumer Product Safety Commission ruled that children's sleepwear containing Tris was banned as a "hazardous substance" under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act. This led to the removal of Tris-treated children's sleepwear from the marketplace. Both the imposition of flammability standards and the subsequent ban on Tris-treated fabrics have caused expenditures and losses by industry.

The imposition of strict flammability standards to protect the Nation's children was fully justified. After it was discovered that Tris was hazardous to health, the removal of Tris-treated sleepwear from the marketplace, again to protect the Nation's children, was also fully justified.

S. 1503 would establish an unprecedented and unwise use of taxpayer's funds to indemnify private companies for losses incurred as a result of compliance with a federal standard. The Government could be placed in the position in the future of having to pay industry each time new information arises which shows that a product used to meet regulatory standards is hazardous. This would be wrong. Producers and retailers have a basic responsibility for insuring the safety of the consumer goods they market.

If this bill became law the potential would exist for compensation of firms who marketed Tris-treated material after they knew, or should have known, that such products constituted a hazard to the health of children. Extensive, costly, and time-consuming litigation would be required to determine, in each instance, the liability involved and the loss attributable to the ban action in April 1977, without regard to profits the claimants may have earned on Tris-treated garments in earlier years.

While it is most regrettable that losses have resulted from the regulatory actions taken to protect the safety and health of the Nation's children, no basis exists to require a potential Federal expenditure of millions of dollars when the actions of the Government were fully justified. Accordingly, I am compelled to withhold my approval from this bill.


Jimmy Carter, Memorandum of Disapproval of a Bill Concerning Government Ban of Tris in Sleepwear Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243982

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