The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently issued a notice that they are considering an open flame flammability standard which could lead to the use of more flame retardants in our nation’s furniture. Their previous proposed standard from 2008 focused on improving the smolder resistance of furniture, which is similar to the new California approach and improves fire safety without relying on flame retardant chemicals.
The comment period closed on July 1, and over 76,000 individuals sent comments or signed petitions opposing this complete change in direction by the CPSC. An additional 67 organizations voiced strong opposition to the proposed standard including the Natural Resources Defense Council representing 1.4 million members and activists; Sierra Club of California; Healthy Child, Healthy World; Environmental Working Group; and coalitions of architects, furniture and foam manufacturers, nurses, consumer groups, community advocates, parents, firefighters, fire scientists and environmentalists of every stripe.
On the other hand, two individuals and five organizations wrote in support of the open flame standard. Three of the five supporters stand to benefit economically from an open flame standard and will come as no surprise: American Chemistry Council’s North American Flame Retardant Alliance; INDA Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry; and Kaneka Corporation, a leading manufacturer of flame retardant fibers for home products, children’s sleepwear and plush toys.
One entity, the National Association of State Fire Marshals, supports an open flame and smolder standard that explicitly prohibits using “chemicals of concern” to meet the standards. However, the current proposal contains no such protection and in no way stipulates how manufacturers would meet the standard. As Physicians for Social Responsibility and 45 other organizations note in their joint comment:
“All other open flame standards for furniture … are largely met by including flame retardant chemicals in foam, fabrics, and/or barriers. As a result, people and homes in California and the United Kingdom, the only places with open flame standards for furniture, contain much higher levels of harmful flame retardant chemicals, compared to areas without open flame standards.”
The fifth supporter of the open flame standard is something of a shocker, the Organic Trade Association (OTA). Notably, OTA expresses support for the open flame standard (citing negative impacts on the organic fibers marketplace) but says “Organic fiber products offer the best hope of finding products free of toxic flame-retardant chemicals. Consumers increasingly are looking to eliminate such chemicals from their household furnishings.” Well, OTA has that part right, consumers do want to reduce toxics in their homes. Unfortunately, an open flame standard will result in more, not less use of these chemicals with an unclear safety benefit.
Though the CPSC’s intention is to improve fire safety, fire science experts make it clear that adopting a smolder standard such as California’s TB117-2013 is the way to achieve this goal without compromising public health.