Building insulation flammability standard in hands of State Fire Marshal

Governor Brown signed CFC-supported AB 127 (Skinner) into law, directing the California State Fire Marshal to consider fire safety without the use of ineffective, toxic flame retardant chemicals that are commonly used in building insulation. Many of these toxic chemicals have been linked to cancer, decreased fertility, hormone disruption, lowered IQ, developmental problems, and environmental pollution.

In March, the Brown Administration proposed a new flammability standard to remove toxic chemicals from furniture sold in California. It requires upholstery fabric to resist a smoldering cigarette — the leading cause of furniture fires — instead of focusing on the foam underneath, as had been the requirement under the old standard. Foam will no longer need to be treated with flame retardant chemicals in order to meet that test.

In addition to the furniture flammability standard, Assemblymember Skinner went a step further to update a similar standard for building insulation.

Plastic foam insulation is used in buildings to achieve energy efficiency goals, and flame retardant chemicals have been added to these materials to pass a flammability test. While the standard has not specifically called for the use of toxic flame retardants on plastic foam insulation, it has been common practice to use them to meet flammability requirements. But adding flame retardant chemicals to building insulation has been shown not to benefit fire safety for most applications.

Because AB 127 was signed into law, the State Fire Marshal, in consultation with the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings, and Thermal Insulation, will review the flammability standards for building insulation materials. Based on this review, she will propose updated insulation flammability standards by July 1, 2015 that will: (1) maintain overall building fire safety, and (2) ensure that there is adequate protection from fires that travel between walls and into confined areas, including crawl spaces and attics, for occupants of the building and any firefighters who may be in the building during a fire.

Once implemented, AB 127 will make building insulation safer and less toxic, without reducing fire safety for building occupants. We are pleased that Governor Brown has signed this important bill and welcome the State Fire Marshal’s updated building insulation flammability standard.