LOS ANGELES--A California agency released a proposal Feb. 8 designed
to reduce the use of chemical flame retardants in upholstered furniture.
The proposed fire safety standards would replace the strict flammability
standard that requires filling material in furniture to withstand a 12-second
exposure to a small, open flame. The new standard would involve smoldering tests
for cover fabric.
The 1970s-era standard led to the widespread use of brominated and
chlorinated flame retardants, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), in
furniture. High levels of those chemicals are now being found in household dust
and in human blood and breast milk. Some studies have linked the chemicals to
developmental and neurological problems and other health effects.
California is the only state with a mandatory flammability standard for
household furniture. Manufacturers around the globe comply with California's
standard so they can ship their furniture and other products anywhere in the
In June, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) directed the state Bureau of Electronics and
Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation to review the
flammability standard following a series of articles in the Chicago
Tribune alleging that chemical manufacturers had thwarted efforts to ban the
flame retardant chemicals by misleading lawmakers about their
The proposed new standard focuses on decreasing the fire potential of what is
currently considered the primary ignition source--cover fabrics, the bureau said
in its Initial Statement
of Reasons (ISOR) for revising Technical Bulletin 117.
Also, the proposed standard would save manufacturers money by duplicating an
existing voluntary testing standard, “as opposed to implementing a brand new
standard,’’ the bureau said.
Release of the proposal opens a public comment period that will run through
March 26. The bureau has scheduled a 10 a.m. public hearing that day at the
Department of Consumer Affairs in Sacramento.
Manufacturers would have to begin meeting the new smolder-test standard on
July 1, 2014, according to the draft regulations. Products made prior to the
effective date could continue to be sold in the state.
As proposed, draft Technical Bulletin 117-2013 is a performance standard that
does not prescribe the use of any specific material or manufacturing
It is based, in part, on a performance standard established by the American
Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) called Standard Test
Methods for Cigarette Ignition Resistance of Components of Upholstered Furniture
(ASTM E-1353-08a), the bureau said. That test is used around the world.
The proposed standard includes specific testing methods for cover fabrics,
barrier materials, and resilient filling materials.
Basically, the new tests would result in the use of barrier materials to
As much as 85 percent of the nation's manufacturers already comply with the
proposed standard, according to the bureau.
“With such large stakeholder participation, it substantially reduces the need
for laboratory testing and associated costs, deeming it less burdensome on
manufacturers,’’ the bureau said in the ISOR.
An additional 17 types of baby and infant products, such as car seats,
changing pads, highchairs, and crib mattresses would be exempt under the
proposal. The current standard already exempts strollers, infant carriers, and
nursing pillows, the bureau said.
All these items require less padding and are less likely to be ignited or
come in contact with an ignition source, the bureau said. Also, manufacturers
would no longer be required to include exemption labels on the products.
In its review of the existing standard, the bureau found that furniture
makers meet the existing open-flame testing standard largely by treating foam
with flame retardants. The bureau also found that in an actual fire, upholstery
cover fabric is the first to ignite and, once the cover fabric burns, the foam
“The Bureau has determined that the current standard does not adequately
address the flammability performance of the upholstery cover fabric and its
interactions with underlying filling materials upon ignition, whether by an open
flame or a smoldering source,” the agency said in the ISOR. “Furthermore, flame
retardant foam can actually increase smolder propensity.”
Public health and environmental groups have pushed for bans on brominated and
chlorinated flame retardants.
Sarah Janssen, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council,
told BNA Feb. 7, said the bureau's first proposal in June indicated the state
would opt for the smoldering test over the open-flame tests. She said the
open-flame tests have been shown to be ineffective and have led to the use of
chemical flame retardants.
In 2004, California enacted legislation banning the use of two forms of
PBDEs, bans that took effect in 2008.
The manufacturer of the two chemicals, pentabrominated diphenyl ether
(penta-BDE) and octabrominated diphenyl ether (octa-BDE), voluntarily withdrew
them from the U.S. market due to concerns about their capacity to bioaccumulate,
persistence in the environment, and potential toxicity.
Legislative efforts to ban other flame retardants have failed in the state,
The American Chemistry Council has defended the use of the chemicals,
claiming the agents are safe and help save lives.
Meanwhile, the Center for Environmental Health has threatened to sue national
retailers and manufacturers of children's sleeping mats, mattresses, sleeping
pads and other products for allegedly failing to warn consumers that their
products contain high levels of a flame retardant the state has linked to
The Oakland-based group began forwarding 60-day notices to several businesses
in December warning them that the products contain the chemical tris
(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate, also called TDCPP or chlorinated Tris, which
the state listed as carcinogen under Proposition 65 in 2011 (36 CRR 1299,
The Center for Environmental Health notified additional retailers and
manufacturers in early January that they had not complied with Proposition 65
By Carolyn Whetzel
The new draft Technical Bulletin 117 is available http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=jstn-94qkws.
The bureau's Initial Statement of Reasons is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=jstn-94qlg2.
Monographs, memoranda, and other documents related to the proposed rulemaking
are available at http://www.bhfti.ca.gov/about/laws/propregs.shtml.