Links for more information

Click here for the Friends of the Earth report.

Click here for more information on California Assembly Bill 706.

Click here for information on the CPSC.

“Killer Couches.” It’s not the name of the latest teen horror movie but rather, according to Friends of the Earth, an all too real threat to the U.S. population

Published earlier this year by the environmental group, “Killer Couches: Protecting Infants & Children from Toxic Exposure” reports that a high percentage of household furniture in California contain halogenated fire retardants which are toxic to humans and animals. According to the report, exposure to halogenated fire retardants, in particular brominated fire retardants (BFRs) and chlorinated fire retardants (CFRs), can result in serious health disorders including: cancer, birth defects, neurological and reproductive dysfunction, and leaning disabilities.

For the study, Friends of the Earth tested 350 pieces of household furniture, both in retail stores and in homes. Results showed that more than two-thirds of the furniture tested at levels of 1,001 ppm or higher.

Halogenated fire retardants are used primarily in the foam of upholstered furniture. However, “because these compounds are not chemically bound to the foam, they escape into the indoor environment where they settle in household dust,” and are inhaled by humans and animals.

The report also cites an October 2007 presentation before the International Society of Exposure Analysis which found that California homes had a range of three to nine times higher concentration amounts of these toxic chemicals in household dust, than were in sample homes in Massachusetts.

Report Gives Ammunition

“Killer Couches” is giving ammunition to California Assemblyman Mark Leno’s efforts to pass legislation banning the use of halogenated fire retardants in furniture and bedding products sold or offered for sale by a manufacturer, importer or wholesaler, for use in the state.

Introduced last year, Assembly Bill 706, the Crystal Golden-Jefferson Furniture Safety and Fire Prevention Act, would amend Technical Bulletin 117, considered by many to be the strictest residential furniture flammability regulation in the nation. TB117 provides a minimum, mandatory standard for all residential, upholstered furniture sold in California and contains both open flame and smoldering cigarette tests.

If passed, then effective Jan. 1, 2010, the law would require that all seating, bedding and furniture products not contain brominated or chlorinated fire retardants, unless given a special exemption by the bureau. The legislation states: “With technologically and economically feasible alternatives that provide equivalent or superior fire retardancy, it is not prudent to continue to use BFRs and CFRs in furniture without a comprehensive assessment of their impact. In order to protect public health, worker and firefighter safety, wildlife and the environment, the Legislature finds that it is necessary to prohibit the use of brominated and chlorinated fire retardants in furniture, mattresses and bedding until the safety of these fire retardants can be demonstrated using prevailing national standards for toxicity risk assessment.”

AB706 is named in honor of Crystal Golden-Jefferson, a 19-year paramedic/firefighter who lost her battle with workplace-related non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in July 2005.

A 2003 study in Sweden established a risk link between brominated fire retardants — which turn into dioxins and furans when they combust — and firefighters developing non-Hodgkins lymphoma as well as other forms of cancer. Furniture is a major fuel source in residential fires.

 CPSC Proposes New Rule

On March 4, the Consumer Product Safety Commission proposed a new standard for residential upholstered furniture flammability. The new rule, 16 CRF Part 1634, would give manufacturers a choice of using either using coverings that meet cigarette ignition performance tests, or add fire barriers between the fabric and padding/interior filling that comply with smoldering and open-flame resistance tests.

The focus is to reduce deaths and injuries from smoldering fires. CPSC has said it “considers an estimated 3,500 fires, 280 deaths, 500 injuries and $112 million property loss annually to be addressable by the proposed standard.”

Manufacturers, as well as importers, would be required to certify that the upholstered furniture complies with the standard and to keep records. For this rule, upholstered furniture is limited to residential seating or reclining only, including: chairs, sofas, motion furniture, sleeper sofas (not the mattress portion) and home office furniture. Furniture without backs, such as ottomans, is excluded.

The CPSC states that the proposed standard would impact approximately 1,600 manufacturers and importers of upholstered furniture as well as between 100 and 200 textile manufacturers. Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until May 19.

Even if you are not directly involved in the manufacture of upholstered furniture, you should stay informed on these regulatory issues. It could save your life.

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