Web Date: June 20, 2012
California Governor Calls For New Flammability Standards
California Governor 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 reduce or eliminate use of flame retardant chemicals in furniture nationwide because many manufacturers design their products to comply with California’s statute.
“We must find better ways to meet fire safety standards by reducing and eliminating—wherever possible—dangerous chemicals,” Brown said in a statement.
Brown’s order follows a four-part series published in May in the Chicago Tribune, which revealed 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,” said 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 said.
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), a front group for fire retardant manufacturers that poses as a consumer watchdog.
CFFS spokesman Seth L. Jacobson told 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 said. “We’re supportive of any technology that allows for maintaining of a good standard, whether it’s barrier technology for furniture or a host of other new things on the market.”
“It is disappointing to see the governor’s letter broadly frame flame retardants as harmful,” added Joel D. Tenney, a spokesman for ICL Industrial Products, a major flame retardant manufacturer and one of CFFS’s members. “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,” said Eve C. Gartner, a staff attorney for public interest environmental law firm Earthjustice. “Kudos to the governor for seeing the dangers and taking steps to fix what has become a global public health concern.”
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