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Policy

California Bill Would Require Labels On Upholstered Furniture Indicating Whether They Contain Flame Retardants

Gov. Brown expected to sign bill passed by the state legislature

by Cheryl Hogue
September 5, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 36

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Credit: William Shulz/C&EN
Labels on upholstered furniture sold in California would tell consumers whether the polyurethane foam padding includes flame retardants.
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Credit: William Shulz/C&EN
Labels on upholstered furniture sold in California would tell consumers whether the polyurethane foam padding includes flame retardants.

Shoppers will soon be able to tell by glancing at a label whether upholstered furniture for sale in California contains flame-retardant chemicals if Gov. Jerry Brown signs pending legislation.

The bill “gives consumers what they have demanded for decades—the right to know what is in their furniture and the power to make an informed decision about whether to purchase it,” says the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Mark Leno (D). Brown is expected to sign the legislation by Sept. 30.

Companies that make fire-retardant chemicals fought the legislation, which passed the California Assembly 56-17 and the state Senate 29-5 at the end of August.

“The bill fails to inform consumers that furniture sold in the state may no longer be protected from open-flame sources, such as candles, lighters, and matches,” says a statement from the North American Flame Retardant Alliance. The group, part of the American Chemistry Council, a chemical industry trade group, consists of the firms Albemarle, Chemtura, and ICL Industrial Products, all of which manufacture flame retardants.

Besides the chemical industry, toy makers and grocery producers opposed the bill. Supporters included firefighters, environmental and health activists, and furniture manufacturers.

The bill adds to a move the Brown administration made last year. In February 2013, the state amended its fire safety standard so it no longer relies on an open-flame test for foam used in furniture. Instead, it requires testing of upholstery fabrics, barriers, and fillings to resist ignition from smoldering cigarettes. The change means that furniture sold in California often no longer needs to contain fire retardants to meet the standard.

A California court on Aug. 29 rejected an industry legal challenge to that new flammability standard. Chemtura filed the suit in January, saying relying solely on the smolder test could lead to more fires, injuries, deaths, and property damage. The company wants the state to adopt a standard that uses both open-flame and smoldering cigarette tests. Chemtura says in a statement that it is weighing whether to appeal the ruling.

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