Panel weighs changing rules on fire-retardant chemicals in furniture


Many California firefighters have long been pushing to change what's called Technical Bulletin 117, a California regulation adopted in the 1970s requiring foam in furniture to withstand a 12-second exposure to a small, open flame.

Former San Francisco Fire Capt. Tony Stefani told state bureaucrats those chemicals used to meet the standard gave him cancer, along with some of his co-workers.

"We are now faced with a chemical toxic puzzle that we are exposed to," Stefani said. "We believe that flame retardants are a very large piece of this puzzle that has to be eliminated."

That left many wondering how harmful it might be to people who use furniture every day, and are constantly exposed to those flame retardants. Studies show fire retardant chemicals can cause cancer, hormone disruption and lower IQs in children.

The panel handling home furnishings heard its last public comment on Gov. Jerry Brown's change in furniture safety standards. He wants to eliminate the open-flame test, instead requiring a smolder-only test, which manufacturers could meet without flame retardants while still preventing fires.

"Flame retardant chemicals continue to migrate out of furniture into dust and are ingested into people and their pets," Physicians for Social Responsibility spokesperson Ana Mascarenas said.

The chemical industry is opposed to the change. While demand for their chemicals would be significantly reduced under Brown's plan, it truly believes the chemicals are safe, and by slowing down house fires, are saving lives.

"The proposal does not address the full range of fire scenarios in residential furniture and this does not meet the government's mandate for safer furniture," American Chemistry Council spokesperson John McCormack said.

The panel is expected to decide later this year on whether the change should go through. All eyes will be watching because what furniture companies make for the California market will be made for the rest of the country and parts of the world.

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