California Governor Jerry Brown recently revealed he would propose alterations to furniture safety regulations in the wake of an expose by the Chicago Tribune revealing how the cigarette and chemical industries conspired to force pounds of toxic chemicals into our homes, all in the name of fire safety. Wasting no time, Tonya Blood, chief of the California Bureau of Electric Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation announced the proposed changes at a government hearing on June 26.
In the Tribune's
three part series, reporters uncovered the web of deceit the two manufacturing industries had spun. Tobacco executives distracted regulators from concerns over the safety of smoldering cigarettes by promoting fears of household fires being caused by open flames. As these fears gained traction, governments instituted safety regulations demanding the addition of flame-resistant chemicals to foams used to fill furniture items like armchairs and couches. Pleased with the huge revenue boost that came from such regulations, the chemical industry pushed for more and more regulations, even going so far as to twist the results of fire safety studies, eventually resulting in the widespread use of so-called flame resistant chemicals in products from furniture to electronic appliances to baby products like car and booster seats.
All this might have gone unnoticed had safety experts not raised cautionary flags about the effects these chemicals were having on human and environmental health. The mass use of toxic flame-resistant chemicals has been linked to negative side effects such as learning disabilities, memory impairment, reproductive problems and an increased risk of several different types of cancer.
Worse still, new evidence shows that these chemicals can't stand up to the heat of flames involved in a true house fire and may actually ignite and accelerate burning in emergency situations.
In response to these mounting concerns, and Governor Brown's demands, Blood announced that she is committed to altering "TB 117," California's code that determines the flame resistance of furniture. With the changes, the law would now require sofas, chairs and other seating to resist smoldering cigarettes rather than open flames from matches, candles and lighters. The switch would also allow furniture to be constructed with flame resistant fabric covers or protective barriers, rather than with the one-to-three pounds of fire-resistant foam chemicals previously mandated by the law. The changes would also exempt baby products like booster seats, car seats, high chairs and baby swings from being treated with these harsh chemicals, to avoid exposing vulnerable infants to toxic substances.
The changes, if passed, will likely affect citizens well beyond the borders of California. Since TB 117 affects any piece of furniture sold in the state, most furniture manufacturers construct every product they make in compliance with TB 117 to avoid running separate production lines. If California lessens its fire standards, the rest of the country will also benefit from decreased exposure to carcinogenic substances.