On September 30, 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1019, an important step forward in helping consumers avoid toxic flame retardants in their furniture. The new law, which goes into effect in 2015, will require furniture sold in California to clearly disclose if chemical flame retardants were added in order to meet flammability standards.
The new law follows up last year’s update to California’s Technical Bulletin 117 (a 1975 standard which required furniture sold in California to pass flammability tests). The update, known as TB117-2013, changed the way flammability is tested on furniture, foregoing the previously required open flame tests on the inner cushion to instead requiring a cigarette smolder test conducted on the outer fabric. Because the majority of furniture cushioning is made from highly flammable polyurethane foam, open flame tests basically guaranteed the addition of flame retardants … and often a substantial amount.
Unfortunately, TB117-2013 did not require companies to disclose the use flame retardants, nor did it forbid their use. This meant that while furniture makers could pass tests without injecting flame retardants into the foam, consumers still had little way of knowing if the chemicals were actually there or not. Considering the issue from a liability angle, it is not unreasonable to assume many companies would continue to add the chemicals.
With this new ruling, furniture makers can still add chemical flame retardants, but they must disclose their use through a label. Given public concerns over potential health and developmental issues in relationship to flame retardants, it’s unlikely that consumers, when given a choice, would select a piece of furniture with potentially dangerous chemicals if they could select one without. While these flammability rulings are only for California, given the size of the California market, they frequently affect furniture makers throughout the entire U.S.
The bill as written requires disclosure of flame retardants used in all components of the furniture. The actual wording of the bill defines “Added flame retardant chemicals” as flame retardant chemicals that are present in any covered product or component thereof at levels above 1,000 parts per million. This suggests that even flame retardants mixed into synthetic fabrics at the time of their manufacture will still need to be disclosed.
It is important to note that this ruling applies to furniture and furnishing but not mattresses, which must meet a different set of standards and still must meet open flame tests, which are required at the national level. Because of the frequent use of polyurethane foam, many mattresses contain flame retardant chemicals. Naturepedic mattresses, however, pass state and flammability standards without the use of chemical flame retardants, including fabric or other barriers that could these chemicals.
This is a hugely important step forward in removing toxic flame retardants from furniture. You can go here to read the actual wording of SB1019 .