California is revamping its controversial four-decade old fire safety regulations, a press release by the Alliance for Toxic-Free Fire Safety announced. This update could change the use of potentially toxic chemicals currently added to upholstered furniture sold in California.
How is the State of California changing its fire safety regulations?
The Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (BHFTI) has issued Technical Bulletin 117-2013, which specifies that new fire safety testing will eliminate the open-flame test. Instead, manufacturers of upholstered furniture must certify that their products can withstand the smolder test during which a plywood mock-up is "exposed to a lighted cigarette as an ignition source."
What are the old rules?
The old rule is Technical Bulletin 117, which was created in 1975. It provided a set of flammability requirements that manufacturers of upholstered furniture had to meet in order to sell their products in the Golden State. In order to pass the test required by this bulletin, a piece of upholstered furniture had do withstand an open flame for 12 seconds without actually spreading the fire.
Why was there a need to revamp California's upholstered furniture flammability standard?
In June, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a news release promising to "protect public safety by reducing the use of toxic flame retardants." Explaining that these chemicals are harmful to human health as well as the environment, the governor urged officials to find ways of "reducing and eliminating" these toxins. A number of studies have proven that the chemicals used by manufacturers to pass the tests called for by California's fire retardant regulations actually led to chemical build-ups in the bodies of toddlers, adults and particularly in women's breast tissues. Burning furniture treated with these toxins may also be implicated in the elevated cancer risks faced by firefighters.
How did the chemical companies react to such kinds of statements?
The American Chemistry Council issued its own November media release noting, "Furniture manufacturers use flame retardants to meet established fire safety standards, which help save lives." Calling flame-retardants effective in the fight against home fire fatalities, the organization also pointed to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is responsible for the review of all chemicals used in the manufacture of furniture.
Does the change to California's fire safety procedures have other reasons as well?
The BHFTI has issued its reasoning for the change in procedures and asserts, "flame retardant foam can actually increase smolder propensity" and studies have now shown that "there are no significant differences between the flame retardant foams formulated to pass TB 117 and untreated foams." Redirecting the attention to flame-retardant cover fabrics rather than filling materials therefore makes the most sense. Citing additional upgrades to consumer goods which have lessened the risk of upholstered furniture combustion, officials believe that it is time to update California's rules on flame retardant upholstery.
Sylvia Cochran is a Los Angeles-area resident with a firm finger on the pulse of California politics. Talk radio junkie, community volunteer and politically independent, she scrutinizes the good and the bad from both sides of the political aisle.