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California Reconsiders Flame Retardants

California officials have proposed changes that would eliminate the use of toxic flame-retardant chemicals, and change the way it conducts flammability tests. The state aims to overturn a 1975 law, known as Technical Bulletin 117, that requires polyurethane foam in upholstered furniture and children’s products to withstand a small open flame for 12 seconds.

Under the new law, testing would be done with a lighted cigarette, rather than an open flame. Fabric covers, lining materials, and fillers all would be tested. Officials said research shows that this test better reflects ‘’real world’’ conditions, in which upholstered furniture burns after being exposed to smoldering embers, such as from cigarettes.

Although no other states have laws like California, manufacturers adhered to that standard for products for the California market and across the U.S. Retardant-free products now are the exception, and tend to be more expensive.

Manufacturers stand by claims that flame retardants are important for fire safety. According to market forecaster BCC Research, the world-wide flame retardant market is expected to grow to $6.1 billion by 2014, from $4.1 billion in 2008.

California officials have called for a 45-day comment period, to get opinions for and against flame retardant rules. If the rule is adopted, consumers would see changes in about a year. By July 1, 2014, manufacturers would make new furniture for California carrying a ‘’TB-117-2013’’ label.

The flammability standard would not apply to some children’s products, including some kinds of changing pads, infant seats, infant mattresses and other items that contain little foam and are not likely to catch fire.

Arlene Blum, a chemist who is executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute in Berkeley, told the San Francisco Chronicle that it’s time to curb the use of flame retardants, and change testing methods. Studies have shown that exposure to the chemicals can lead to health problems including reduced fertility, developmental problems, lower IQs and cancer, Blum said.

Picture credit: jetheriot via Flickr

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