Good news for California

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In a move that’s sure to please anyone concerned about chemical exposure, California Governor Jerry Brown announced yesterday a new state flammability standard: As of Jan. 1, upholstered furniture sold in the state will be able to meet flammability requirements without the use of with PBDEs or other chemicals.

“Today, California is curbing toxic chemicals found in everything from high chairs to sofas,” said Governor Brown. “These new standards will keep the furniture in our homes fire-safe and limit unnecessary exposure to toxic flame retardants.”

The new rule overturns a controversial 1975 law that Brown himself signed during his first stint as governor: Technical Bulletin 117, which required furniture manufacturers to inject flame-retardant chemicals into the synthetic foam used in virtually all upholstered furniture in the state. That translated into 2-3 pounds for a typical sofa, but over the years research has increasingly shown that such chemicals pose a major threat of cancer and other health problems, with children being most at risk. When state agencies such as the Bureau of Home Furnishings – on whose advisory board Lifekind president and co-founder Walt Bader sits as a member – recommended the change, officials listened.

Now instead of foam that’s been infused with flame-retardant chemicals, upholstered products from recliners to infant swings and strollers will be made fire-safe by focusing on using cover materials that resist common sources of ignition such as cigarettes, space heaters, and extension cords. That, combined with fiber fillings that resist smoldering, will be enough to meet the new standard for most products, though it’s always important to hold retailers accountable: “While many manufacturers may elect to remove the chemicals, others may elect to leave them in due to concerns about liability,” said Judy Levin of the Center for Environmental Health. “So consumers will definitely have to be diligent and ask specific questions.”

Manufacturers may begin making products to the new standards on Jan. 1, 2014, and will have one year to be fully in compliance.

Let’s hope that other U.S. states follow California’s lead and that the trend goes worldwide to prevent chemical exposure for future generations!