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It’s Official: Toxic Flame Retardants No Longer Required in Furniture

, KQED Science | November 21, 2013 | 25 Comments
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Starting next year, shoppers will be able to buy sofas that don't contain flame retardant chemicals.

Starting next year, shoppers will be able to buy sofas that don’t contain flame retardant chemicals.

Governor Jerry Brown has revised a controversial law he signed into existence during his first stint as governor, back in 1975.

The obscure-sounding “Technical Bulletin 117″, or TB 117, effectively required furniture manufacturers to inject flame-retardant chemicals into all upholstered furniture sold in the state.

With California’s law a de facto national standard, a typical sofa now hits the market with two to three pounds of chemicals that can cause cancer and reproductive problems.

Starting in January, 2014, a new flame retardant standard will take effect, eliminating the need for furniture makers to inject the chemicals into upholstered chairs, sofas, and other items.

Flame-retardants may also disappear from baby gear, such as booster seats and changing pads, which will no longer be subject to flammability standards.

“It’s wonderful, after years of work, to see this become a reality” said Arlene Blum, a visiting scholar in chemistry at the University of California Berkeley and director of the Green Science Policy Institute.

Starting in January, toxics-wary consumers can look for furniture with the “TB 117-2013″ tag, and ask whether the item has been treated with flame-retardant chemicals.

“I was practically screaming with happiness,” said Blum, who’s been working on the flame retardant issue since the 1970s.

The new law, called “TB 117-2013″ doesn’t forbid furniture manufacturers to use the chemicals. Instead, it sets a new flammability test — known as a “smolder test — that furniture makers can meet without using the flame-retardant chemicals.

Instead of injecting chemicals into upholstery foam, manufacturers can line furniture with a fire shield, or use flame-retardant fabrics, which do not emit toxic gases.

In its justification for the new rules, state officials cited studies suggesting that furniture foam treated with flame-retardant chemicals can actually be more hazardous in a fire.

“Flame retardant foam can actually increase smolder propensity,” wrote officials with the state’s Bureau of Home Furnishings, which sets furniture standards.

Starting in January, furniture makers will be able to sell furniture with the new “TB 117-2013″ tag.

Blum says chemical-wary shoppers should look for the new tag, and then ask furniture sellers whether the sofa or chair has been treated with flame-retardant chemicals.

The revised law could also effectively remove flame-retardant chemicals from a number of children’s products — including changing pads, nursing pillows, infant swings, strollers — all of which are exempt from flammability standards as of January.

“We’re in touch with most of the furniture manufacturing associations and the juvenile products manufacturers associations, and they have told us that their manufacturers are planning to remove the flame retardant chemicals, once it’s legally possible,” says Blum.

 

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About the Author ()

Amy Standen is a radio reporter for KQED Science. Her email is astanden@kqed.org and you can follow her on Twitter at @amystanden.
  • http://www.americanchemistry.com/ American Chemistry

    Families in California should have serious concerns that state officials are lowering fire standards and removing an important layer of fire protection that has benefited Californians for more than 35 years. Statistics demonstrate that fires and fire deaths declined in California since the fire safety standards were implemented as part of TB-117, which would explain why a number of respected organizations, like the National Fire Protection Association and Underwriters Laboratories, have submitted comments to California state government opposing this change.

    It is ironic that California is removing an important layer of fire protection for open flame sources even though statistics show that these fires are a real threat. Looking at U.S. home fires that originated with upholstered furniture in 2005 to 2009, the National Fire Protection Association reports, ‘Together, candles, matches and lighters were involved in 21 percent of the fires and 12 percent of the deaths’. The debate over TB-117 has been fueled by concerns about the flame retardants that can be used to meet the standard. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the full authority to review all chemicals, including flame retardants, both prior to production and once they are on the market. So changing TB-117 sacrifices fire safety for California families with no public health gain. – North American Flame Retardant Alliance

    • Dora Idiote

      I find it very ironic that a comment from ” American Chemistry” voicing their opinion on any subject whether for or against something would not include one scientific fact of chemical analysis. You can quote statistics from any agency you would like, but the one thing that would make you comment relevant that I do not see that you included is a chemical analysis that these fire retardant are not carcinogenic. It makes me wonder why a council with all the capabilities to provide that informative data simply does not? Unless a scientific council is going to provide scientific facts to support their opinion then they should keep their opinion to themselves…..

      • Tierney Johnson

        your first sentence = win :)

    • Joshua Forter

      lol…your disgusting and clearly represent the special interest. Shame on you…I hope there is justice in this world to deal with things like you.

    • Rizzle

      Phuck you, you chemical company minion! You are an actual evil piece of shyt!

    • helen

      Wool is a natural flame retardant and meets the standard. What about all the long term health problems and significant increase of cancer patients coming from all these chemicals you push?

      • Al Singer

        Well said. It’s very telling that organizations and people like “American Chemistry” ignore the natural fibers like wool that can accomplish the same task as toxic chemicals but with no side-effects. But then hey they’d be out of their profits which is far more important to them than the safety of their customers.

      • Jester1137

        This is important.

        We saw fire deaths spike in the 60′s and 70′s because of synthetic fabrics and foams.

        All these standards were ever meant to do was try to make those products meet the same fire resistance as cotton and wool.

        We could have just stuck with the natural fibers.

    • Douggie

      You are a jackass. How can you write this crap with a straight face? You can keep buying toxic, cancerous furniture if you want. In fact you can have my furniture for free when I replace all my furniture next year with non-toxic furniture. It’s nice leather furniture and beds I bought only last year for my new house, but I will replace it all with non-cancerous pieces. But please stop spewing your BS about “no public health gain” from this change in the law. I’m sorry you work for the North American Flame Retardant Alliance and I’m sorry you will now loose your job, but I don’t want to die of cancer just to protect your job. It’s about time governor Brown reverses his horrible decision 35 years ago. Too late for millions of additional people with cancer, but not too late for my children (hopefully).

    • DieChemicalCompanies

      @Retardo Alliance:
      Go to your bathroom. Open the cabinet. Take all the pills you see in there. [Don't] call me in the morning. (rinse & repeat as necessary to cause your final, complete and total eradication)

    • channonh

      Perhaps those of us without open flames in our homes are best suited to decide whether we want this fictitious layer of protection from a nonexistent threat?

    • disqus_46537YpyEo

      No one will ever convince me that these chemicals need to be in my nursing pillow, changing pads, toddler chairs, infant slings or my infants play mats. The manufactures of these chemicals have gotten out of control and there is no way these chemicals have been added to almost EVERYTHING in a small child’s world for safety. Its more about GREED!

    • guroo

      So everyone should be required to live with chemically soaked furniture because of smokers (the majority of couch fires are caused by drunk people passing out with a cigarette in their mouth/hand) or the careless who use candles and lighters. It makes absolutely no sense. You play with fire, or smoke, then you accept the risk that you are inviting with fire. DOn’t give cancer to the majority to save the idiotic minority. And for those working for the American Chemistry Council, you don’t have to go to hell…you can repent and do the right thing…it’s not too late.

      • Jester1137

        Smokers cause about 10-15% of fires. (Remember, only about 1 in 5 adults smokes now).

        Cooking causes 40% of fires. Kids playing with fire cause about 20%.

        But that’s beside the point. You know what standard they’re trying to mimic?

        They want their product to be as fire resistance as cotton batting. Seriously. No more. Using natural fibers like cotton and wool gives us products *just* as flame resistant as their treated crap!

        It’s not a choice between cancer and fire danger. Don’t buy their framing.

    • Jester1137

      Fire standards weren’t lowered. They were raised.

      The product produced by the people you’re paid to represent couldn’t pass the new, and more stringent, smolder tests.

      Thank you for being honest about who you are. I mean that sincerely. Many corporate interests and trade groups pose as “ordinary concerned citizens”.

      You do deserve a bit of credit for being up front.

  • Shannon Tracey

    I am thrilled that my family may someday be able to own a couch without exposure to toxic chemicals that offer little to no benefit to our health. Hopefully the costs of these products will also go down as companies stop purchasing toxic chemicals from the members of the American Chemistry Council. My family strongly supports this policy change and looks forward to further opportunities to reduce chemical exposure, particularly for infants, small children, and pregnant women. Our regrets to the manufacturers of toxic flame retardants, whose products threaten our health without actually protecting us from the harms they claim to prevent. This is a victory for health and safety in California that I hope will extend throughout the nation.

    • channonh

      Given that the toxicity was “extended throughout the Nation” as a result of California’s misguided TB 117, those of us who don’t live in California, don’t elect your politicians, and have no say on the matter, share in your hope that we will no longer be forced to live with this toxicity because of California’s corrupt political process…

  • Douggie

    Interesting that in finally changing the law the government said it was because some flame retardants can increase smolder propensity. They said this to cover their asses from lawsuits. If they simply admitted the truth, which is that the chemicals are causing cancer, then they would be liable to lawsuits. Now, with their bogus explanation they can continue to claim that they did not cause cancer for millions of people with their senseless law, even though they know they did. Our government at work.

    • DieChemicalCompanies

      This is the next asbestos – let the litigation commence. These guys are going the way of Johns Manville

  • Al Singer

    This looks like a fantastic step towards eliminating a large cause of toxic exposure for people. But the options below are somewhat concerning:
    “Instead of injecting chemicals into upholstery foam, manufacturers can
    line furniture with a fire shield, or use flame-retardant fabrics, which
    do not emit toxic gases.”
    How do we know that “flame-retardant fabrics” being used “do not emit toxic gases”? If that is true, do we know that the chems wouldn’t come off on people sitting on them? And what are the requirements of a “fire shield”?
    If anyone has any info about this, I’d sure appreciate hearing about it. Thanks!

  • janet

    testing

  • janet

    OK. I just bought a new couch for the Sofa Club. I didn’t know about this flame retardant BS. NOW I do. too little too late. I called them because of the toxic smell of the cushions. They said that the foam distributors are still suing the toxic foam in California even though they don’t have to. We all know why. They have to sell the already produced product to get the money they paid for the manufacturing of it! Once again all about money!!! Any ideas on what I can do. Can you wash this stuff out of the foam?

  • janet

    I meant FROM the Sofa Club

  • janet

    still USING the toxic foam. I should have proofread…..

  • http://www.scribd.com/doc/167618678/Vlamwerende-Kleding-Van-Tranemo-Bij-Woltex Tevreden Werker

    I consider it as very important that my furniture is flame ratardent. I prefer to be exposed to some chemicals then to burn to death in a fire and lose everything I have.

    The flame retardents are mixed into the fabric so how could you inhale them?
    Kinda like asbestus. Its not really a problem unless you start to take it apart, sawing or drilling into it. The problem is made way bigger then it actually is.

    People are overreacting and panicking over the use of chemicals while you are never really exposed to them. They are inside the fabric to protect you from fire. A fire can happen in any home with all kind of sources. Some outside your own house (neighbours).

    There might be materials that have flame retardent properties but these might not be suitable for all products.