California Bureau hears public comments on proposal to reduce fire safety

The California Department of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (the Bureau) is holding a hearing today to accept final public comments on a draft regulation that would eliminate the state’s open flame test for upholstered furniture. The hearing comes at a time when, according to the National Fire Protection Association, open flame sources, such as candles, matches and lighters, account for 21 percent of upholstered furniture fires and 12 percent of deaths.

So why would the Bureau consider removing an important layer of fire protection for Californians?

The answer is troubling. Because flame retardants are one way to meet the open flame test, there has been a great deal of pressure to remove the test over concerns about chemical exposure. But this approach ignores the fact that there is a separate regulatory process that California is developing to evaluate chemicals used in consumer products. It also fails to recognize that there are a number of different flame retardants with very different health and safety profiles, which all are subject to review by national and international government agencies.

The proposal comes at a time when polling research shows that weakening fire safety standards is a matter of concern for California residents. A poll conducted in California by Tulchin Research revealed that voters overwhelmingly believe flame retardants used in household products, like furniture, can help slow the spread of fires and protect public safety. Furthermore, a majority of voters oppose changing the current open flame test to a smolder test, as has been proposed by regulators. Of the 800 Californians interviewed in the November 28 – December 3 poll, 79 percent believe flame retardants used in household products improve public safety and 54 percent oppose changing the fire safety standards to a smolder-only test.

In preparation for today’s hearing, the North American Flame Retardant Alliance submitted official comments that call for the Bureau to fulfill its statutory mandate to develop regulations that help protect Californians from the threat of upholstered furniture fires.  Specifically, NAFRA quotes the Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation Act, which says:

Protection of the public shall be the highest priority for the [Bureau] in exercising its licensing, regulatory, and disciplinary functions…. Whenever the protection of the public is inconsistent with other interests sought to be promoted, the protection of the public shall be paramount. Adoption of the Proposed Regulations would conflict with and impair this purpose by eliminating the more rigorous open flame test in favor of the less-protective smoldering test.

Since fires from open flame remain a serious concern, we urge the Bureau to make fire safety its highest priority as the proposed regulations are considered and address concerns about chemicals through the state’s alternative regulatory process.

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