Issue Date: June 25, 2012 | Web Date: June 22, 2012
New Rules May Ax Flame Retardants
California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. (D) on June 18 called for a revamp of the state’s 1970s-era flammability standards for upholstered furniture, citing studies that link flame retardants in sofas to cancer and reduced fertility. The overhaul could decrease or eliminate use of flame-retardant chemicals in furniture nationwide because many manufacturers design their products to comply with California’s statute.
Brown’s order follows a four-part series published in May in the Chicago Tribune, which contends that in addition to their toxicity, flame retardants are ineffective at fire prevention. According to the Tribune series, manufacturers of flame retardants manipulated scientific studies to conceal that information.
“This is an important and exciting step that’s long overdue,” says Renée Sharp, a senior scientist and director of the California office of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization that has conducted multiple investigations on the accumulation of flame-retardant compounds in children and infants. “The question now is what standards they’ll come up with.”
The revamping process will include workshops and opportunities for public comment, Brown says.
The American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry trade association that counts makers of fire retardants among its members, distanced itself from the news. Spokesman Scott Jensen directed C&EN to the Citizens for Fire Safety (CFFS), an advocacy group for fire-retardant manufacturers.
CFFS spokesman Seth Jacobson tells C&EN that his group looks forward to participating in the revision process. “Our position has been that we want to maintain tough fire safety standards,” he says.
“It is disappointing to see the governor’s letter broadly frame flame retardants as harmful,” adds Joel Tenney, a spokesman forICL Industrial Products, a major flame-retardant manufacturer and a CFFS member. “It is our belief that flame retardants will continue to be an important part of the solution.”
“There is solid evidence that other available fire safety strategies are both more effective at reducing injury and damage from fires and do not endanger the public health,” says Eve C. Gartner, a staff attorney for public interest environmental law firm Earthjustice.
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