Tim Shestek, senior director of State Affairs at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), testified June 24 before the California Assembly Committee on Business, Professions and Consumer Products on Senate Bill 1019 (also known as SB 1019), legislation that would require manufacturers of upholstered furniture to indicate whether their products sold in the state contain flame retardant chemicals.
ACC opposes the bill on the grounds that a label should not draw overly broad conclusions about the potential health effects of all flame retardant chemicals. To do so would not only be scientifically unsound, it would be inconsistent with the state’s chemical management program under Proposition 65 and the new Safer Consumer Product Regulations.
Proponents contend the bill seeks to “provide California consumers clear information about the furniture products they are purchasing, specifically concerning compliance with fire safety standards and the absence or presence of added flame retardant chemicals.” Yet the bill makes no mention of the fact that with recent changes to the state’s furniture flammability regulations, furniture is no longer required to be tested for resistance to open flame sources of ignition like candles and matches, a standard that was in place for more than 40 years.
Shestek argued for the addition of language addressing changes to furniture flammability regulations to the labeling requirement. He further discussed the danger of arbitrarily identifying flame retardants as harmful chemicals that are not considered by the relevant state agencies to present a risk of harm to human health.
Indeed, a recent survey of likely voters in California indicates a strong desire for more information on furniture and fire safety. Over half of all residents surveyed expressed concern with the new rules for fire safety for upholstered furniture sold in the state, while an overwhelming 82 percent of those questioned support product labeling that informs customers that fire standards recently changed.
The debate follows the news that Kaiser Permanente will stop purchasing furniture that contains flame retardant chemicals for its facilities. In a letter sent to the company in response to this decision, ACC President and CEO Cal Dooley explained the crucial role fire retardants play in making furniture safer:
“The use of flame retardants in upholstered furniture can help prevent fires from starting and/or slow the rate at which small fires become big fires, providing valuable time for persons to escape danger,” wrote Dooley.
With this in mind, it is important that consumers are made aware of whether or not they are being afforded this level of protection with purchases for their homes.
MORE: Watch leading researchers from the BCC Research Annual Conference on Recent Advances in Flame Retardancy of Polymeric Materials discuss whether they would live in a house without flame retardants.