California moves to scrap toxic flame retardants

by Deborah Sullivan Brennan, San Diego Union Tribune

California took a step toward updating flammability standards, when a state bureau last week proposed new rules that could reduce the amount of toxic flame retardants in furniture and other consumer goods.

The new standards – proposed by the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation – would overturn a 1975 state rule that required furniture foam to withstand an open flame.

That standard led manufacturers to infuse upholstery foam with pounds of chemicals linked to health problems including infertility, cancer, hormone disruption and learning disabilities, but did not lead to reductions in fire deaths, critics said.

Instead, state regulators would require furniture to pass a “smolder test,” by which upholstery must resist a burning cigarette. That test, they said, would ensure greater fire safety without the use of toxic chemicals.

The state of California and the U.S. EPA phased out one common class of flame retardant, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDE, in the last decade. But furniture manufacturers substituted it with chlorinated Tris —- a chemical that was removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s because of concerns that it could cause cancer.

The new rules would eliminate or reduce the use of such chemicals in upholstery foam and other products.

The new rule would take effect Jan. 1, 2015, but manufacturers could begin producing products to comply with its guidelines early next year, said Ana Mascarenas, policy and communications director for Physicians for Social Responsibility in Los Angeles.

The rule is open to public comment until Sept. 3.