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Defending Improved Furniture Flammability Standard

Mother and child on a sofa.

Flame retardants easily migrate into household dust and indoor air, and have been linked to a range of adverse health effects, including reduced IQs in children and impaired fetal and infant development.

Max Riesgo / Shutterstock

Case Overview

A coalition of fire safety and health groups has intervened to support the recently updated California furniture flammability regulations, which have been challenged by the major chemical manufacturer Chemtura. Effective January 2014, the revised regulations provide stronger protections against the leading causes of furniture fires, and allow furniture manufacturers to reduce their reliance on harmful flame retardant chemicals.

Earthjustice is representing the California Professional Firefighters, Center for Environmental Health, Friends of the Earth, Natural Resources Defense Council and Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, in order to support the revised regulations issued by California Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation.

The revised furniture flammability standard, contained in Technical Bulletin 117-2013, provides improved protections against smoldering ignition sources (such as smoldering cigarettes on fabric) which are the major source of upholstered furniture fire deaths. It also allows manufacturers to satisfy the standard, while reducing their reliance on harmful flame retardant chemicals. In so doing, the revised standard provides better protections to both firefighters and consumers. When flame retardant-treated furniture burns, it releases more carbon dioxide, smoke and soot than untreated furniture, and also produces known carcinogens, increasing the health and safety risks to firefighters and consumers. In addition, even in the absence of fires, many flame retardants easily migrate into household dust and indoor air, and have been linked to a range of adverse health effects, from reduced IQs in children, reduced fertility, endocrine and thyroid disruption, and impaired fetal and infant development.

Case Updates

September 4, 2014 | Blog Post

America To Benefit From Flame Retardant Victories

Two victories in California last week will soon make families – and firefighters – across America healthier. Both involve toxic flame retardant chemicals deliberately put into our couches, chairs and other furniture items.

August 25, 2014 | Feature

Firefighters Turn Up The Heat On Flame Retardants

Flame retardants are among more than 80,000 chemicals on the market that have not been adequately tested for health and safety. They have received increased scrutiny for their potential health impacts on firefighters, as well as on the general public.

November 26, 2013 | Blog Post

Calif. Ends Rule That Poisoned Us with Flame Retardants

Chemical flame retardants, which are present in a wide array of household products, have been linked to cancer and developmental, neurological and reproductive problems. And chances are, if you are sitting on a padded chair or couch, it contains these noxious chemicals.

April 16, 2013 | Blog Post

Outdated Toxics Law Exposes Americans to Many Chemicals

Just sitting on a couch can accelerate the release of flame retardant chemicals, which are harmful to human health. And no one should think they are safe from these chemicals—a CDC test analyzing blood samples from 2003 and 2004, finding that 97 percent of Americans carry flame retardants in their blood.

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