New California Legislation Will Address Chemicals in Flame Retardants Found in Furniture

A bill to modernize Technical Bulletin 117 or TB 117, an ineffective California flame retardant standard that has led to the use of chemicals in foam for furniture and other products throughout the country known to be harmful to human health, was introduced today in the California Legislature.

Authored by Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), Assembly Bill 2197, is strongly supported by a large coalition of firefighters, scientists, businesses, consumers, and public health advocates. AB 2197 will modernize TB 117 based on current fire safety science and years of research by the federal government. The new standard will provide increased fire safety without the use of toxic and untested chemicals.

TB 117 was developed in 1975 and has led furniture manufacturers to use toxic and untested chemicals in their products in order to meet the standard. Studies show that toxic fire retardant chemicals are now found in the bodies of nearly all North Americans, with Californians and children having the highest levels.

Following are statements from leaders of public health, consumer, environmental, firefighter, and business groups:

‘Toxic flame retardants used in our furniture to meet TB 117 do not reduce fire deaths and are a major threat to the public’s health,’ according to Dr. Wendel Brunner, Director of Public Health for Contra Costa County ‘Children and infants are most vulnerable to their harmful effects, and there is no excuse for requiring them in furniture and baby products.’

 ‘Numerous studies have been published demonstrating that firefighters have significantly elevated rates of cancer, including multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate, testicular cancer, malignant melanoma and brain cancer,’ said Lou Paulson, president of California Professional Firefighters. ‘It is our firm belief that there is a direct link between these risks and firefighter exposures to complex mixtures at fire emergencies, including the combustion by-products of fires involving fire retardants.’

 Sarah Janssen, MD, PhD, MPH, with Natural Resources Defense Council and University of California, School of Medicine says, ‘Research links many of these flame retardant chemicals to lower IQs and hyperactivity in children, and also to reproductive problems and endocrine disruption. The entire world is watching California to see if we will act to prevent continuing global contamination from chemicals used to meet TB 117.’

 ‘TB 117 does not protect young children, pregnant women, or other vulnerable populations from fires but it does expose them to toxic chemicals in their homes all day every day,’ says Judy Levin from the Center for Environmental Health ‘We need to stop the outdated regulation that has created such a health hazard now.’

 ‘Because of our furniture standard, Californians carry in their bodies some of the highest levels of chemical fire retardants in the world. This inundation into our bodies of these toxic chemicals strongly linked to neurological harm serves no purpose.  There are other much more effective ways of preventing fires, ways that will not compromise how children think and how they learn,’ comments Sharyle Patton, Director, Commonweal Biomonitoring Resource Center.

 ‘A broad coalition of groups are working to update the obsolete California furniture fire regulation that de facto forces these toxic chemicals into products made with foam,’ explains Andrew McGuire, Policy Director with the Green Science Policy Institute. ‘This legislation is long overdue, and is urgently needed to remedy a dangerous and complex situation. The chemical industry has spent millions fighting changes to the law, and has been deploying techniques attacking science used when the tobacco industry tried to convince the public that smoking was safe.’

David Levine, CEO, American Sustainable Business Council, says, ‘Our recent polling indicates that most business owners want to see regulations that level the playing field by enabling all businesses to be able to provide the safest products possible for their customers. ‘Made for California’ should mean ‘Safe and Healthy’ because that’s what our customers want.’

 ‘The chemical industry has targeted individuals from the medical profession, communities of color, and firefighter communities, misrepresenting the science,’ says Ana Mascare