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Jay McIntosh

UPDATE: New California FR rule compliance date would be mid-2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California's new proposed upholstered furniture flammability rule could give furniture manufacturers until mid-2014 to meet its requirements.

The second draft of the new Technical Bulletin 117 rule, uses a smolder-only test - basically a lit cigarette - to determine whether upholstery is safe enough.

Released on Friday, the rule is expected to eliminate the use of an open flame test, which could reduce or eliminate the use of chemical flame retardants in furniture foam.

If the rule is adopted, manufacturers would have until July 1, 2014, to meet requirements set forth in the new standard.

Concerns about the chemicals used in foam to pass the open flame test prompted the state to look at alternatives. Gov. Jerry Brown's office directed the state's Bureau of Electronic Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation to come up with a draft of a rule that would cut the need for such chemicals while still maintaining fire safety.

The new smolder test would be performed on mockups of cushions, rather than just foam, which could encourage manufacturers to use barrier materials and smolder-resistant cover fabrics to pass the test.

In a statement explaining the new rule, state officials said, "The Bureau has concluded that the current standard does not adequately address the flammability performance of the upholstery cover fabric and its interactions with underlying filling materials. Further, based on evaluation of current statistics, related studies and currently available technologies, the new standard should address the predominant source of upholstered furniture fire deaths, which are smoldering materials."

The statement added that since upholstery manufacturers would no longer have to use chemicals to make materials resistant to open flames, "Manufacturers would instead be able to purchase and use the less expensive non-flame retardant materials therefore saving in material costs."

While the TB 117 rule applies only to California, it became a de facto national standard for many manufacturers who didn't want to make one set of product for the most populous U.S. state and another for the rest of the country.

There will be a six-week comment period before the proposal can be adopted by the California agency. A hearing is set for March 26.

The American Home Furnishings Alliance released a position statement saying it supports the revision to the TB 117, believing it addresses the challenges and concerns surrounding flame retardant chemicals while not compromising fire safety.
"Throughout nearly four decades of debate over how best to reduce the number of residential fires that involve upholstered furniture, AHFA has advocated a focus on preventing smolder ignition and maintained that product modifications should be made only as they are proven safe, effective and affordable for the greatest number of consumers," the statement said.
It added that the revised draft The TB 117 meets the objectives and satisfies California Gov. Brown's mandate for a flammability standard that ends the furniture industry's reliance on flame retardant chemicals.

The AHFA said the draft addresses the principal concern of smolder ignition by referencing the longstanding and proven ASTM E-1353 flammability standard.

That standard is similar to the Upholstered Furniture Action Council test method.

AHFA also said the revision would provide a barrier option for fabrics that don't pass the smolder test.

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