Volume 91 Issue 7 | p. 11 | News of The Week
Issue Date: February 18, 2013 | Web Date: February 14, 2013

Furniture Fire Fights Continue

Regulation: California’s proposed new standard for furniture is already generating heat
Department: Government & Policy | Collection: Safety
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: fire safety, flame retardant chemicals, TB 117
The aftermath of a smolder test on an upholstered armchair.
Credit: William Schulz/C&EN
A California Department of Consumer Affairs technician shows upholstered furniture tested to meet the state’s fire protection standards.
The aftermath of a smolder test on an upholstered armchair.
Credit: William Schulz/C&EN

New fire-safety standards for upholstered furniture were issued by the State of California on Feb. 8, igniting immediate controversy. That’s because the proposed standard, known as Technical Bulletin 117-2013 (TB 117-2013), eliminates an open-flame test for foam used within furniture, relying instead on tests to evaluate a cigarette smolder, specifically the ignition resistance of upholstery cover fabrics, barriers, and filling materials. The change means manufacturers will no longer have to use flame-retardant chemicals in foam to meet the standard.

Anti-flame-retardant-chemical activists are cheering the move, saying it will improve human and environmental health by eliminating the need to use a variety of compounds, some of which have been shown to have varying degrees of toxicity. But fire-safety scientists and chemical makers say the proposed new standard lowers fire safety because it tests only optimal conditions. Any evidence of toxicity, they say, needs to be balanced against a very real fire threat from candles, lighters, and other open-flame hazards.

“Regrettably, if this proposed regulation moves forward, it will reverse a fire-safety standard that has provided an important layer of protection to Californians for over 35 years,” the American Chemistry Council, an industry group, says. The California standard for furniture fire safety is the de facto national standard because of the size of the California market and because it is among the strongest state regulations for furniture fire safety.

The Berkeley, Calif.-based Green Science Policy Institute, headed by chemist and activist Arlene Blum, calls the proposed new standard “a win-win-win for fire safety, health, and environment.” Blum has long advocated a revision of the standard that would remove the open-flame challenge and obviate the need for retardant chemicals, which she contends are unacceptably toxic.

The new standard, which is nearing the end of a lengthy process for enactment, is posted for public comment for 45 days. Regulators will be required to deal with any comments or concerns not previously dealt with before they can issue a final draft of the standard.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © American Chemical Society
george (Tue Feb 19 09:44:39 EST 2013)
Is it just me or are the safety focused activists following the play-book they criticized, when you dont like your prefferred outcome's test result, change the test.
Ms. Blum and other environmental/safety activists have criticized industry tox results (and sometimes even regulatory tox) for decades saying they change/design tests to provide the evidence they need for safety. Sometimes they even present their own studies to show tox (or often potential for tox effects). But now when confronted with real problem solving (how to avoid tox AND fire) they followed the MO they criticized, they lobbied to change the test to fit their desired outcome (no chemical fire resistance in foams). Regardless of the tox profile they sought to avoid, their actions show me that they are scientificaly conversant chemophobes at heart, not scientists.
Mike (Sun Feb 24 11:01:41 EST 2013)
According to the National Fire Protection Association, the annual fire death rate from open flame sources (candles, lighters, etc.) is virtually unchanged in the last 30+ years, and remains much lower than the steadily declining death rate from smoldering sources, e.g. cigarettes. The existing standard, which calls for an open flame test on raw foam, has contaminated the world with PBDEs and since 2004 has exposed North Americans in their homes to a host of replacement toxic flame retardants. Yet that standard has done nothing to reduce fire deaths. The new standard addresses real-world conditions - the whole piece of furniture - and protects against real safety concerns - smoldering cigarettes. That's common sense - optimizing performance and environmental safety together.

PS - george, I guess you're not a social scientist. Ad hominem attacks don't work - look up the data. Neither does comparing apples and oranges, as in a toxicity test intended to determine a chemical's inherent hazard, and a performance test intended to determine whether an arbitrary performance standard has been met.
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