Reverse Course - CA Attempts to Repeal Flame Retardants
Posted by kevvyg on Thursday, May 24, 2012
With Technical Bulletin 117 in 1975, California became the first state to pass legislation that required flame retardants to be a part of the sofas. From there, the law spread to encompass nearly all home furnishings that included foam, like mattresses, love seats, chair, and even tents. The provision outlines that home furnishing and items such as these must be able to withstand an open flame for 12 seconds. As the years have passed and research has shed light on the chemical flame retardants used and their impact on health, what once seemed like a universal positive now casts a different shadow.

Multiple times bills have been drafted in the California legislature - each seeking to repeal the 1975 provision. Each time the bill has failed, arguably due to heavy lobbying efforts by the chemical industry. But why has California changed course? Why is there now a push to remove the flame retardants that were once thought to protect against house fires? To answer these questions, we need to look back at the original law, why it came about and what research since that time has shown us.

Consumer safety is at the heart of fire retardant use mandate. Testimony of accounts where home furnishings were accidentally set ablaze was one original driving factor. Yet contrary to this push, the law requires that for most products, only the foam must be fire retardant. So for many home furnishings, the exterior fabric, the logical point where a fire could possibly start often requires no special coatings or treatments, and items like mattresses, require a prescription from a doctor before a mattress without flame retardants can be sold or constructed. And to play devil’s advocate, how many times have you seen a house fire where the mattress or couch was all that remained?

Research into the health effects of the chemical flame retardants used has shown that exposure to many of the chemicals used have serious health consequences, including birth defects and increased rates of cancer. Chlorinated flame retardants are common, and substances that were originally grandfathered in, like many brominated fire retardants, have since been scrapped but testing of replacement chemicals and their long term health effects is slow in coming.

Statistics show that there has been a reduction in the number of fires that have started in homes, but physicians groups and others point to an overall decrease in smoking, the use of fire-safe cigarettes (FSC) and increased use of sprinklers and smoke detectors as the cause - not chemical flame retardants. To this point, one could still argue, as many politicians and lobbyists do, that the research behind the decrease the number of fires isn’t conclusive on this point.

For those who suffer from MCS or sick-building syndrome, the nearly 2 pounds of chemical flame retardants that can be found in modern home furnishings can be a continual source of aggravation and recurring reactions. As the public becomes more aware of what is in the products we have in our home, you see a push by many industries to lower the chemical content - take VOC's in paint as a recent example.

The latest iteration of the bill to provide choice when it comes to home furnishings with flame retardants has the support of doctors, firefighters and consumer safety advocates. Because California represents the fifth largest economy in the world, a change in the California law would likely cause a change in production of home furnishings across the Canada and the US. As of now, there is no choice, but should a repeal or amendment pass, which would you choose?


Tags: MCS, VOC's
On 12/21/2013 ruth conway wrote:
how do I find out if my dogs snoozer dog seat has fire retardant in the foam part of the seat?????
On 12/23/2013 KevvyG wrote:
You'll have to check directly with the manufacturer. Those Snoozer brand products for pets are a different company than the maker of our Snoozer body pillows. You might try
I'm not sure if that is where you purchased, but they appear to be the manufacturer of what you're describing. I'm just guessing, but unless the beds come with some flame retardant wrap, like the wool wrap that Royal Pedic uses to make their organic mattresses compliant with state laws, it likely has some type of flame retardant in the foam itself. Again, though, you'd have to check with the maker of the product to confirm. Hope that helps!
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