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California panel proposes changes to FR chemical standard

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California authorities have made a move that could change the way the furniture industry makes household seating products.

Tonya Blood, chief of the California Bureau of Electric Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation, the bureau that regulates furniture, said in a hearing here Tuesday that she is committed to replacing a rule that requires sofas, chairs and other seating to resist open flames from matches, candles and lighters and instead test for resistance from smoldering cigarettes.

The new method, which would change California Technical Bulletin 117, would eliminate the use of fire-resistant chemicals in foam, which have been linked to health problems in adults and children. The changes are in the wake of a blistering series by the Chicago Tribune, which charged that the tobacco industry and some chemical companies lobbied for fire-resistant chemicals to prevent the cigarette industry from taking preventative actions on its own.

What California does is important because TB 117 has become the de facto standard for all furniture sold there no matter where it comes from. That would include most of the country's manufacturers.

The new proposal would require manufacturers to use a flame resistant fabric cover or a protective barrier to delay ignition rather than the one to three pounds of chemicals that are currently used for 117 compliance. Blood said the change would apply to baby products as well.

State Sen. Mark Leno, a proponent of reducing the use of toxic chemicals in furniture, and Joe Lang, the lobbyist for Citizens for Fire Safety, the group representing the chemical industry, both testified Tuesday, with Leno accusing the Fire Safety group as being "discredited" and abusive of the legislative process. Chemical interests have spent $23 million in lobby efforts against past attempts to change the fire safety standards.

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