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Experts to California: Open flame test is important

It has been a week since the comment period ended in California for TB-117-2013, a proposal that would remove the state’s open flame test for upholstered furniture, and already it is becoming clear that those with a grounded understanding of fire safety codes are weighing in on the side of keeping an open flame test.

Indeed, the trade publication Inside Cal/EPA recently published an article noting the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission submitted comments to California regulators criticizing parts of the state’s draft standards. The publication reported that CPSC says it is considering a standard for furniture that may address both smoldering and open flame fire risk, while California is only considering a smolder test. The publication also noted that CPSC’s comments suggested a state-federal split on key technical issues.

In its comments on TB-117-2013, which were submitted to regulators in California, CPSC noted that its focus on the open flame test was based on outcomes from fire simulation tests. Ray Bizal, representing the National Fire Protection Association, also spoke of the importance of an open flame test during his testimony at the public hearing on TB 117-2013. After enumerating open flame fire statistics and how upholstered furniture is the leading item involved in home fire deaths, he said:

Reflecting these statistics, NFPA feels strongly that a fully comprehensive fire safety regulation of upholstered furniture must address the full spectrum of major fire scenarios, including the  open flame scenarios.

John McCormack, a retired fire scientist, who worked at the California Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation and is now an expert consultant for the North American Flame Retardant Alliance, has spoken out extensively about the proposed changes to this flammability standard. In a recently released statement, he noted:

The weakened state fire safety standard [which eliminates an open flame test] would be unquestionably less protective of public safety. Given the potential of furniture fires to grow rapidly in size and cause injury, death and property loss, this reality argues for a stronger open-flame standard, not the elimination of the standard altogether.

As data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show us, fires related to upholstered furniture are a serious threat to life and property and disproportionately impact certain populations, including young children, the elderly, people with lower incomes and African Americans. Therefore, it is important California regulators base their decisions on sound information. Their decisions should not be based solely on the testimony and letters from people who only have a limited understanding of the importance of an open flame test and what removing it as a standard could mean for people in California and beyond.

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