EWG applauds CPSC's move toward safer furniture

cigarette_pbdes.jpgAfter a decade delay, CPSC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking last Friday that would set new fire retardant standards for home furniture. In a rare victory for public health the rules would require the fabric to be fire resistant instead of the foam inside.

Sound obscure? It is. Even some EWG researchers nod off when I talk about the details. But this bureaucratic move by a feeble government agency is actually a reminder of the obscure impacts that Big Tobacco and chemical companies have on your health.

Since 2002, EWG has documented the extent of contamination of fire retardants, known as PBDEs, in umbilical cord blood, mothers' milk, household dust and the environment. In January, CDC confirmed these findings with a study that detected PBDEs in the bodies of 99% of nearly 2000 Americans.

Somehow these obscure chemicals in couch cushions and carpet padding have found their way into all of us, and at levels that may impact babies' brain development. But the presence of toxic chemicals in furniture foam was neither accident nor oversight.

CPSC's vote ends a decade old stalemate between Big Tobacco, the handful of companies who make brominated fire retardants, and furniture-makers. As the Washington Post reported recently, this lengthy delay was largely the work of a single lobbyist, Peter Sparber, who was employed by both Big Tobacco and the bromine industry to fight restrictions on smoldering cigarettes, which are the primary source of furniture fires. Fire retardant fabric offers fire protection with significantly less chemical use, which isn't good for the bottom line if you are in the bromine business.

Individual states are now requiring that cigarettes be self-extinguishing, which dramatically reduces the risk of furniture fires. That alone is far more effective than loading our homes with toxic chemicals, including the one banned from children's pajamas in the 1970s.

In typical CPSC-style, this victory isn't complete. The regulations still allow the use of unknown and potentially toxic chemicals on foam, including Deca PBDE, HBCD, tris and other chemicals already shown to accumulate in people and the environment. EWG will be pushing for improvements to the final rule and keep you updated about the process.

But first we'll take a minute to savor this small victory.

Photo: Cigarette by SuperFantastic.

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