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.
Since 1975, California—alone among all states—has required manufacturers to impregnate foam furniture with flame retardants to meet its flammability standard. But because California is such a huge market, manufacturers like Ikea put chemical retardants in all their furniture, exposing people in other states to health risks. To make matters worse, studies show that the California standard did not increase fire safety, did not address the most common cause of furniture fires and actually made fires more deadly.
Working with other groups, Earthjustice convinced the Brown administration that it could make a regulatory change to the flammability standard rather than relying on the Legislature to change the statute itself. The regulatory change creates greater fire safety by addressing the most common source of furniture fires, and it can be met without the use of flame retardants—an option most manufacturers are likely to choose because the chemicals pose risks to their workers and consumers, and add to the cost of the furniture.
Unfortunately, a major flame retardant manufacturer, aided by the American Chemistry Council, challenged the new standard in court. Earthjustice represented firefighters and environmental health advocates helping to defend the standard. Last week, we prevailed when the Sacramento Superior Court upheld the state’s new standard. As a result, consumers across the country will soon have the option of buying furniture that is both less flammable and less toxic.
This terrific news is made all the better because of legislation passed earlier in the week that will require manufacturers to disclose whether their furniture actually contains those toxic flame retardants. When Gov. Brown signs the bill—as we believe he will—consumers will have the information they need to make healthy choices. Thousands of Earthjustice supporters helped make this legislative victory possible by contacting their state representatives and insisting they vote the right way.
This is not the end of our efforts to reform our outdated and broken system for regulating toxic chemical. We are working to fix this system so that manufacturers must prove that chemicals like flame retardants are safe before they put them into products we all use.