A Success Story: Getting Toxic Flame Retardant Chemicals Out

When Governor Brown entered office eight years ago, he took action to fix the regulation that was driving the use of pounds of toxic flame retardant chemicals in couches in California, across the country, and even into Canada. With his signature on AB 2998 on Saturday, September 29, he put an end to the practice for good in California.

Flame retardant chemicals are associated with serious health effects, from cancer and reproductive harm to learning disabilities and interference with the normal operation of hormones. Firefighters and children face especially high risks from these chemicals. Their use had been driven for decades by an outdated California standard (TB 117) even though their use provided no meaningful fire safety benefit.

When Governor Brown came into office, his leadership helped change that. TB 117 was updated and improved to become TB 117-2013 and to provide fire safety without the need for toxic flame retardant chemicals.

In 2014, NRDC and our co-sponsors, California Professional Firefighters (CPF), Center for Environmental Health (CEH), and Consumer Federation, worked with Senator Mark Leno to pass a bill that required manufacturers to disclose the presence or absence of flame retardant chemicals in upholstered furniture. Governor Brown signed that bill (SB 1019) into law. Since then, flame retardant use in furniture has declined considerably.

Unfortunately, a significant minority of products continue to use flame retardant chemicals even though they are not needed (about 15% of inspected products) and continue to expose people to these chemicals unnecessarily. In addition, flame retardants continue to be used in many children’s products and in mattress foam even though they are not necessary.

NRDC, CPF, and CEH set out to address the remaining use, working with Assembly Member Richard Bloom. With Mr. Bloom’s leadership, AB 2998 passed the legislature with a bipartisan vote. AB 2998 prohibits the sale in California of furniture, certain children’s products, and mattress foam that contain flame retardant chemicals, starting in 2020. With his signature on AB 2998, Governor Brown has closed the loop on a significant public health issue, eliminating toxic flame retardant chemicals in furniture and other products. Given California’s market influence, this will reduce exposures not only for Californians, but well beyond.

And for that, I am thankful.

This blog provides general information, not legal advice. If you need legal help, please consult a lawyer in your state.

About the Authors

Avinash Kar

Senior Attorney, Sustainable Agriculture and Antibiotics and Western Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program
Blog Post

Yesterday evening, the California legislature provided final approval for Assembly Bill 2998 by Assembly Member Bloom, moving the state one step closer to eliminating toxic flame retardant chemicals from California homes.

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California bill, AB 2998 by Assembly Member Bloom, which bans toxic flame retardant chemicals of concern from upholstered furniture, certain children’s products, and the foam of adult mattresses, just passed the state legislature with bipartisan support and is currently awaiting the Governor’s signature.

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The dust in U.S. homes is chock-full of hazardous chemicals from our products—phthalates, flame retardants, and other toxic chemicals are unwelcome visitors in each and every one of our homes.

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