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Chemical makers push back on proposed FR rule

Heath E. Combs, Staff Staff -- Furniture Today, July 24, 2012

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A proposed rule that would strip flame retardants from foam in upholstered furniture met resistance from chemical executives at a workshop here on Monday, a story in the Chicago Tribune reports.

The California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation held the workshop 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 construction more than the components - like foam - of an upholstered piece.

The old rule used both open flame and smoldering tests. The proposed new rule is entirely a smolder standard and focuses on cover fabrics.

Open flame testing measures tendency of upholstered furniture fire hazards when ignited by a small open flame, like a match, candle or a lighter. Smoldering tests measure what happens when a cigarette is left burning on a sofa.

The proposed rule gives three test methods to test smolder resistance of furniture.
The draft requires standard polyurethane foam with "no flame-retardant chemical added in either the manufacturing or post-manufacturing process."

The Tribune reported that chemical industry executives cautioned on Monday against weakening fire safety standards and making decisions based on a portrayal of flame retardants as undermining human health.

A recent Tribune series documented 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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