California to Overhaul Fire Retardant Rules

Sacramento, Calif. (Feb 8, 2013)– California Governor Jerry Brown today proposed to end the widespread use of highly toxic fire retardant chemicals in foam furniture sold in the state.

"The new rules, when enacted, will ensure that furniture doesn’t pose unintended health risks," said Bill Allayaud, director of government affairs for the California office of Environmental Working Group. "California’s current fire safety rule does not protect us against fire dangers but contaminates our bodies and those of our children with chemicals linked to cancer and other serious dangers to health."

Brown’s move is expected to have an impact nationwide because California, with 10 percent of the U.S. population, exercises so much purchasing power that most American furniture makers fabricate their products to comply with California flammability standards.

“This decision is a public health victory for all Americans,” said Sonya Lunder, EWG senior research analyst.

Last year, in a directive to overhaul the state’s fire safety law, Brown cited a groundbreaking EWG study, conducted in 2008, which found that children’s blood contained concentrations of fire retardants three times higher than their mothers’ blood. The reason: children who play on the floor come into contact with fire retardant chemicals shed from treated foam furniture.

EWG has been investigating the toxicity of fire retardants in furniture since 2003. That year, EWG’s tests found toxic fire retardants called PBDEs in the breast milk of 20 American mothers, with an average concentration 75 times higher than the average PBDE level in European mothers. This dramatic distinction was attributed to California’s inflexible fire safety rules. The California legislature banned PBDEs, and several other states enacted their own restrictions. Eventually, PBDEs were phased out across the U.S.

Recently, tests by scientists and consumer advocates found that California fire safety rules had triggered the widespread use of chemical fire retardants in couches, car seats, changing table pads and other baby products, both in California and the rest of the country. Chlorinated tris has been substituted for PBDEs in many cases, even though California regulators have formally listed this chemical as a carcinogen. Firemaster 550, another replacement for PBDEs, is suspected of disrupting the hormone system.

The new regulations proposed by Brown will allow manufacturers to use safer technologies like fire-resistant fabrics in place of chemically-treated foam. Baby products will no longer be required to contain fire retardants, since their small size makes it unlikely that they could cause a serious house fire.

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