Bill for disclosure of flame retardants in furniture would help consumers choose safer products

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This week Senator Mark Leno introduced California SB 1019, a bill that would provide consumers easily accessible information on whether furniture contains added flame retardant chemicals. This bill follows closely on the heels of the January 1, 2014 changes to California’s 35-year-old flammability regulation for upholstered furniture, which was celebrated as important progress towards fire-safe, non-toxic furniture.

The Bureau of Electronic Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings, and Thermal Insulation implemented the new regulations after completing a thorough and transparent process, which included public input. It concluded that the use of flame retardant chemicals under the old standard did not provide any meaningful fire safety benefit and did not address the primary cause of fires—smoldering materials such as cigarettes. Consequently, the Bureau revised the furniture rules to protect against fires started by smoldering materials. The reason that SB 1019 is needed now is that while the new standard will no longer drive the addition of flame retardant chemicals, their use is not prohibited.

Currently there is no labeling or disclosure required if flame retardants are added to furniture, so consumers cannot determine which furniture is flame retardant free. These chemicals are associated with a variety of health problems, including cancer, decreased fertility, hormone disruption, lower IQ, and hyperactivity. Young children have some of the highest levels of flame retardants in their blood, and low-income communities of color have high exposure levels as well. Many flame retardants persist in the environment, build up in wildlife, and are now global contaminants.

Often consumers would like to purchase furniture that does not contain these chemicals in order to reduce their family’s exposure and due to the environmental concerns. This legislation would require manufacturers to disclose on a product label and point-of-sale information whether or not the furniture contains added flame retardant chemicals.

At left: Under SB 1019, information on whether furniture contains flame retardants would be added to the label and also displayed by retailers at the point of sale.

Retailers would then display the point of sale information so consumers can readily identify which products do or do not contain these chemicals. The proposed labels in SB 1019 would help consumers easily understand the information, and provide a simple, uniform comparison across products. It also would provide businesses with a standard format to communicate this information to consumers.

NRDC is co-sponsoring this bill with Center for Environmental Health and California Professional Firefighters (CPF). CPF represents more than 30,000 front line firefighters and emergency medical service personnel throughout the state, and sponsorship of SB 1019 indicates how important this issue is to both public health and the health of public safety professionals. Flame retardants in furniture do not provide a fire safety benefit, and when they do burn, they are transformed into potent cancer-causing chemicals, such as dioxins and furans. Firefighters face significant exposure to such chemicals in the course of their work. These exposures are believed to be contributing to the much higher rates of cancer that firefighters suffer.

SB 1019 would result in more transparency in the marketplace and allow consumers to make informed decisions about the products they purchase. With better information, consumers can choose safer products, resulting in a better environment for families and firefighters.