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Jay McIntosh

California proposes switching to smolder test in furniture FR standard

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California officials proposed today to change the state's upholstered furniture flammability rules to eliminate the use of an open flame test, which could reduce or eliminate the use of chemical flame retardants in furniture foam.

State officials announced a new proposed Technical Bulletin 117 rule, which would use a smolder-only test - basically a lit cigarette - to test whether upholstery is safe enough.

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.

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