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Proposed California rule has 3 new FR tests

Heath E. Combs -- Furniture Today, August 3, 2012

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A proposed rule that would change California's upholstered furniture flammability standard calls for a big change in testing methods.
     The California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation last week held two workshops to discuss a draft rule that changes the state's furniture flammability requirements, known as Technical Bulletin 117.
     Since 1975, the rule's open flame test has required that producers of foam for furniture use of large amounts of flame retardant chemicals to pass the test. It became a de facto standard because so many furniture makers ship into California.
     A draft rule released earlier this month, TB 117-2012, differs from the old rule in that it focuses on how well cover fabrics resist smoldering. The existing rule concentrates more on the risks of an open flame on foam, but also has a smolder element.
     Under the proposed rule, gone is the open flame test that measured the tendency of foam to ignite when exposed to a flame simulating a match, candle or lighter.
     The proposed rule gives three test methods for measuring smolder resistance of upholstered furniture. It measures what happens when a cigarette is left burning on a sofa.
     Andy Counts, CEO of the American Home Furnishings Alliance, said AHFA plans to work with the Upholstered Furniture Action Council to study how the proposed methods would work.
     Of the three TB 117-2012 draft test methods, one tests the smolder resistance of fabric pinned to a small seat-andback mockup. A cigarette is then placed in the crevice and smoldering hazard is assessed.
     If a fabric fails that test, one of two other test methods can be used. One would require that the actual components of a piece of furniture be used to make a small mockup piece, and that piece would be tested. An alternative would be to test an actual piece of furniture - but Counts doubts that will be acceptable to the industry.
     "If you decide to do test method three, you'd be burning tens of thousands of SKUs," he said.
As currently written, the draft rule's tests call for the use of standard polyurethane foam with "no flame-retardant chemical added in either the manufacturing or post-manufacturing process."
     The proposed rule met resistance from chemical executives at a workshop here last week, the Chicago Tribune reported. The executives cautioned against weakening fire safety standards and making decisions based on a portrayal of flame retardants as undermining human health.
     California's rulemaking comes in the wake of an investigative series by the Tribune documenting decades of upholstered flammability rulemaking heavily guided by lobbying from chemical and tobacco interests, rather than sound science.
     Reports over the past decade have shown toxic chemicals in flame retardants may cause neurological and reproductive damage, reduced fertility, and in firefighters, elevated rates of cancer.
     Last month, California Gov. Jerry Brown directed state agencies to revise TB 117.

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