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California Takes Aim at Fire Retardants in Furniture

Monday, September 8, 2014


Here’s some good news. It’s getting more likely that in the near future, when you go shopping for a couch or chair, it will no longer be saturated with pounds of toxic chemical fire retardants. 

That’s because a recent regulatory change by the state of California makes it much easier for manufacturers to make furniture that doesn’t contain these harmful chemicals. And now the state is on the verge of enacting a law that will require companies marketing furniture to add a label informing California consumers whether it does or does not contain fire retardants.

The new state regulation did not ban these chemicals, but it changed the rules so that manufacturers can meet a fire safety standard by using physical barriers such as the type of fabric – not just with chemicals. That’s important, because fire retardants migrate out of the furniture and get into children, adults, pets and even wildlife around the globe. A recent EWG-Duke University study found that young children carry five times higher levels of flame retardants in their bodies than their moms do.

With informative labels, parents will now have a choice – they won’t have to bring a toxic couch into their family’s home. And because consumers are demanding fewer toxic chemicals in their houses and furniture manufacturers are no longer compelled to use these expensive chemicals, furniture showrooms will soon have many more non-toxic choices.

But at first, it may be difficult for consumers to know what furniture contains fire retardants and what does not. That’s where the new labeling law comes in. Thanks to the hard work of many advocacy organizations, including EWG, that lack of transparency will change. Senate Bill 1019, sponsored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), recently passed both California’s Assembly and Senate with wide bipartisan support. We fully expect Gov. Jerry Brown to sign the bill into law, since it was his initiative that prompted the state to change the fire safety standard.

But the chemical industry that has profited for decades from this overly stringent standard is not going down without a fight. It fought hard against the new California law over the last eight months. It also sued the state when the new flammability standard went into effect.

But there’s more good news on that front. A judge just ruled that state officials acted within their authority in changing the fire safety regulations. The judge wrote in his opinion that the chemical company’s reasoning “would produce absurd results.”

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