It's a move that's being cheered by environmentalists around the U.S. The state of California recently released new fire-safety standards for upholstered furniture that would eliminate the need for flame retardant chemicals in furniture.
The proposed standard, known as Technical Bulletin 117 2013 (TB 117 2013), eliminates the requirement for an open-flame test for foam used within furniture. Instead, furniture is tested for the resistance of its components — upholstery cover, fabrics and filling materials — to a smoldering cigarette. The fact that furniture will no longer have to be resistant to an open flame means that manufacturers will no longer have to use the heavy flame retardant chemicals within the foam to meet the previous fire standard.
Flame retardants have been linked to everything from liver disorders to infertility to developmental disorders. They have been even been shown to alter thyroid hormones in pregnant women. Last year, Walmart banned the use of the most common flame retardant — PBDE, or polybrominated diphenyl ether — from any product sold in its stores. This included not just furniture, but also computers, car seats and electronics.
For many environmentalists, the move comes not a moment to soon. The new California standard comes just months after a report was released last fall indicating that household furniture remains a major source of a variety of flame retardants.
Don't live in California? The new standard will still affect you as California is such a large market that regulations there tend to affect the way furniture is made throughout the U.S..
As you might expect, the proposed standard is meeting heavy resistance from the American Chemical Council, a chemical lobbying group that includes the major manufacturers of flame retardants.
The public has about 40 days to comment on the proposed standard before regulators must decide whether they are ready to issue a final draft of the standard.