Oceans & Forests Blog

Fire safety & health groups defend improved furniture flammability standard against chemical company challenge

Posted Apr. 15, 2014 / Posted by: Kate Colwell

New standard better protects firefighters and consumers

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. - A coalition of fire safety and health groups has intervened to support the recently updated California furniture flammability regulations, which have been challenged by the major chemical manufacturer Chemtura. Effective January 2014, the revised regulations provide stronger protections against the leading causes of furniture fires, and allow furniture manufacturers to reduce their reliance on harmful flame retardant chemicals.

On April 11, 2014 Earthjustice filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the California Professional Firefighters, Center for Environmental Health, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council and Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, in order to support the revised regulations issued by California Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (“the Bureau”).

The revised furniture flammability standard, contained in Technical Bulletin 117-2013 (“TB 117-2013”), provides improved protections against smoldering ignition sources (such as smoldering cigarettes on fabric) which are the major source of upholstered furniture fire deaths. It also allows manufacturers to satisfy the standard, while reducing their reliance on harmful flame retardant chemicals. In so doing, the revised standard provides better protections to both firefighters and consumers. When flame retardant-treated furniture burns, it releases more carbon dioxide, smoke and soot than untreated furniture, and also produces known carcinogens, increasing the health and safety risks to firefighters and consumers. In addition, even in the absence of fires, many flame retardants easily migrate into household dust and indoor air, and have been linked to a range of adverse health effects, from reduced IQs in children, reduced fertility, endocrine and thyroid disruption, and impaired fetal and infant development.

"The California furniture flammability standard is followed by manufacturers around the nation," said Lou Paulson, President of the California Professional Firefighters. "The revised standard provides better protections for firefighters and consumers not just in California but elsewhere in the United States," said Paulson. Mr. Paulson is a declarant in the case and submitted comments.

“California was the only state in the nation that required the use of toxic fire retardants in its furniture until 2014,” said Marcie Keever, Legal director at Friends of the Earth. “The new state standards better protect against furniture fires without contaminating consumers with toxic chemicals. We are standing up to Chemtura and the chemical industry which seeks to continue the practice of dumping pounds of harmful chemicals into our consumer products.”

“The State of California has shown true leadership in improving its furniture flammability standard to better protect the firefighters acting as first responders and consumers,” said Irene Gutierrez, one of the Earthjustice attorneys handling the case.

“Chemtura's  baseless attack on California's modern, science-based fire safety rules is an insult to children and families who want safer furniture made without the company's toxic flame retardant chemicals," said Judy Levin, Pollution Prevention Co-Director at the Center for Environmental Health. "We expect the court to recognize that California's updated standard provides consumers and fire fighters with fire safety and public health.”

“The state is now providing better fire safety without the need for dangerous and untested chemicals,” said Avinash Kar of Natural Resources Defense Council. “We cannot allow a multi-billion dollar chemical corporation that has previously misled Californians on this issue to stand in the way of this public health victory. Chemtura should not dictate what we put in our homes. Californian’s safety and health is more important than Chemtura’s sales.”

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Contact:
Greg Loarie, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2090, gloarie@earthjustice.org
Irene Gutierrez, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2123, igutierrez@earthjustice.org
Amy Howard, California Professional Firefighters, (916) 921-9111, ahoward@cpf.org
Judy Levin, Center for Environmental Health, (510) 655-3900, judy@ceh.org
Avinash Kar, Natural Resources Defense Council, (415) 875-6100, akar@nrdc.org
Martha Dina Arguello, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, (213) 689-9170, marguello@psr-la.org

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