• Cindy W. Hodnett

Chemtura Corp. challenges revised California flammability test

SACRAMENTO, Calif.— Global specialty chemicals company Chemtura Corp. has filed a lawsuit in Superior Court of California seeking to overturn TB-117-2013, the state's amended regulatory rules and new smolder-only flammability test for upholstered furniture, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

In the lawsuit, Chemtura, whose Emerald Innovation NH-1 halogen-free flame retardant is specifically designed for use in flexible polyurethane foams in interior automotive and furniture applications, asserts that the new regulatory rules and smolder test weaken fire safety standards and represent a significant risk to California consumers. Chemtura representatives state that the lawsuit is necessary to obtain judicial review of the revised rules, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2014.

"The revised rules require furniture makers to pass only a cigarette smolder test and eliminates a vital requirement-required by the law mandating the Bureau (California Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation) to establish fire safety standards-that all filling material used in upholstered furniture pass an open-flame test to replicate a candle, match or lighter flame," said Anne Noonan, senior vice president, Industrial Engineered Products, Chemtura. "If left unchallenged, California's revised, weakened fire safety standard could tragically lead to more fires and more injuries, deaths and property damage nationwide."

The lawsuit also notes that the Bureau stated that an open-flame test was crucial to a viable national fire safety standard in 2008 when the Consumer Product Safety Commission was considering a national furniture flammability standard (Proposed Furniture Flammability Std. 16). The Bureau stated that it "strongly believes that any national furniture flammability standard must address the typical scenario of open flame ignition in upholstered furniture," according to the lawsuit.

"As a member of the industry that develops and supplies products to prevent fire injuries and deaths, we are filing this lawsuit to defend the need for a standard that provides more fire protection, not less; and to require the Bureau to adhere to its statutory obligations in the rulemaking process," Noonan said. "We are seeking a judgment that will throw out the revised standard-a standard that does not provide protection from open-flame ignition sources, as mandated by law. Our hope is that the court will throw out the revised standard. While an open-flame standard is paramount for safety, we believe an ideal result would be that the Bureau will develop a new standard that addresses both smolder and open-flame ignition sources, which would improve, rather than weaken, fire safety."

Andy Counts, CEO for the American Home Furnishings Alliance, told Furniture/Today,
"California officials conducted a robust review of the available science, including new studies completed since the 2008 flammability debate Chemtura cites in its justification for challenging TB-117-2013," stated Counts. "Current data shows that smolder ignition remains the primary source of household fires involving upholstered furniture. In addition, while California officials have moved to a smolder test within their standard, they also agreed to continue studying the remaining hazards of small open-flame ignition sources and the best way to address those hazards."

Arlene Blum, PhD and visiting scholar, chemistry, at the University of California, Berkeley, and the executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute, told Furniture/Today that she thinks the new standard represents a positive change for consumers.

"The new TB-117-2013 will provide an enormous consumer benefit," Blum said. "To meet the old standard, the foam used in furniture had to contain flame retardants. Hundreds of scientific papers document that these chemicals are harmful to human and animal health. The new standard allows manufacturers to provide increased fire safety without the use of toxic flame retardants."

Cindy HodnettCindy W. Hodnett | Upholstery/Style Editor

As the Upholstery/Style Editor for Furniture/Today, I spend my work hours studying the sloping curves of sofa frames, the intricacies of fabric and the nail head trim and button accents that function as jewelry on a piece of upholstery. I research the companies that bring these things together for retailers, and ultimately consumers, and interview industry leaders about their business strategies and where they think furniture is heading in the future. And when traveling, I provide a sneak peek at what I'm seeing, whether at international markets or in High Point or Las Vegas.

I look forward to sharing what I see and I hope you'll feel free to do the same. Email me at chodnett@furnituretoday.com or follow me on Twitter @CynthiaWHodnett.

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