Progress on toxic flame retardant protections

For nearly four decades, an outdated California furniture flammability standard has led to the widespread use of toxic flame retardant chemicals, without the promised benefits of reducing fire deaths. Many of these chemicals have been linked to cancer, decreased fertility, hormone disruption, lowered IQ, developmental problems, and environmental pollution.

For six years CFC, alongside a coalition of firefighters, public health officers, environmental groups, parents, scientists, and many others, battled the chemical industry and won a breakthrough for our health and safety, transforming the obsolete regulation with a new draft.

In March, the Brown Administration proposed TB 117-2013 to remove toxic chemicals from furniture sold in California. Expected to take effect in early 2014, the new standard requires upholstery fabric to resist a smoldering cigarette — the leading cause of furniture fires — instead of focusing on the foam underneath, as is the case under TB 117. Foam will not need to be treated with flame retardants in order to meet that test.

Given the toxicity concerns surrounding flame retardants in furniture, state officials are now being urged to go a step further and roll back a similar mandate that requires manufacturers of building insulation to add flame retardants to their products as well.

AB 127, authored by Assemblymember Nancy Skinner and supported by CFC among numerous other organizations, calls for the State Fire Marshal and the Bureau of Home Furnishings to draft and propose flammability standards that reduce the use of flame retardant chemicals in building insulation while maintaining building fire safety and encouraging healthy building practices. The bill will be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee on August 12.

Even though California is finally poised to enact commonsense flammability standards, in a surprise move, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) took a step backward and is now considering an open flame flammability standard, which could lead to the use of more flame retardants in our nation’s future. It is directly at odds with California’s approach.

CPSC previously proposed a standard in 2008, which was focused on improving the smolder resistance of furniture (similar to the new California approach), but the agency took no action to advance the rulemaking process. The comment period for the open flame standard closed on July 1. Tens of thousands of individuals and 67 organizations, including CFC, voiced strong opposition to the newly proposed CPSC standard.

Though the CPSC’s intention is to improve fire safety, fire science experts make it clear that adopting a smolder standard such as California’s TB117-2013 is the way to achieve this goal without compromising public health.