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California Finalizes Stronger, Healthier Fire Safety Rules

(202) 667-6982
For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, November 21, 2013


SACRAMENTO, Calif.  – Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to revise regulations that led manufacturers to add large amounts of toxic fire retardants to foam furniture sold in California “is a public health victory for all Americans,” Environmental Working Group Research Director Renee Sharp said today.

The new rules make it easier for furniture manufacturers to meet fire safety standards without fire retardants and make fire safety testing methods more realistic.

“The new rules will ensure that furniture doesn’t pose unintended health risks,” said Bill Allayaud, director of government affairs for EWG’s California office. “California’s current fire safety rules do not effectively protect us against fire dangers, but they do contaminate 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, has so much purchasing power that most furniture makers fabricate their products to comply with the state’s flammability standards.

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

EWG has been investigating the toxicity of fire retardants in furniture since 2003. That year, EWG testing found one class of toxic fire retardants called PBDEs in the breast milk of 20 American mothers at an average concentration 75 times higher than in European mothers. This dramatic difference was attributed to California’s inflexible fire safety rules. The state legislature subsequently banned PBDEs, and several other states enacted their own restrictions. Eventually PBDEs were phased out across the U.S., but use of other fire retardants continued unabated.

Recently, tests by scientists and consumer advocates found that California’s fire safety rules had triggered widespread use of other chemical fire retardants in couches, car seats, changing table pads and other baby products across the country. Chlorinated tris has replaced 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 California regulations will allow manufacturers to use safer technologies such as fire-resistant fabrics in place of chemically treated foam. Baby products will also no longer be required to contain fire retardants, since they were deemed unlikely to trigger cause a serious house fire.

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