In October of 2011, the flame retardant tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate, referred to by its acronym TDCPP, was placed on the California Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects. This meant that businesses had one year either to remove it from, or to place a warning label on, their products that contained it. However, many businesses were caught unprepared when the restriction became effective in October of 2012, and the citizen enforcers permitted under Proposition 65 began to issue notices of intent to sue when they alleged to have found TDCPP in articles offered for sale after the deadline had passed, mainly in those household furnishings with foam cushioning and upholstery.

TDCPP was not the only flame retardant on the list, with tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP), brominated biphenyls, and tris(2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate (referred to as Tris and banned in children’s clothing in the US since 1977) also present. These flame retardants are allowed to be in furniture and other articles, but a warning label must accompany the product, either on the product itself, on the packaging, or on a notice at the point of sale. Most manufacturers would prefer to remove the chemical in question because a California Proposition 65 warning label on the product may harm sales.

Manufacturers in difficulty

Despite these increasing restrictions on the presence of flame retardants in furniture and other articles, the flammability standards in the state of California, given in Technical Bulletin 117 (TB117), have not changed. Although changes to TB117 were proposed in February of 2013, including the use of physical barriers to prevent the spread of fire, manufacturers at the moment face the difficulty of complying with the same flammability standards but having fewer options with which to do so.

All furniture manufacturers who use composite woods in their products are already obliged to hold to the formaldehyde emission standards of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) if they or their customers plan to sell products in California. Recently, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to issue a rule under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to apply the California standards throughout the US. If adopted, the CARB formaldehyde emission limits would apply nationwide, and composite-wood manufacturers would need to be certified as compliant by a Third Party Certifier (TPC). These manufacturers would be inspected at least quarterly. If the manufacturers are located overseas, and are to be certified by a TPC that is also overseas, the TPC must have an agent physically present in the US in order to facilitate communication between the EPA and the TPC. The EPA is soliciting comments on these proposed regulations until August 9, 2013.

Regulations in other US states

Within the last two years, several states have put in place chemical regulations that target children’s products, among which are various furnishings such as cribs and beds. Washington  State’s Children’s Safe Products Act, although enacted in 2008, is being implemented in stages based upon the gross global sales of the manufacturer/retailer and the classification of the product. Cribs and beds would be classified as Tier 2 products, meaning a child has more than one hour exposure to them.

By the end of August 2013, manufacturers classified as “largest” (having between one million and two hundred fifty million dollars in gross annual sales) would be obliged to report to the State of Washington if their Tier 2 products contain any of the Chemicals of High Concern to Children (CHCC) above the Practical Quantitation Limit (if deliberately added) or above 100 ppm (if a contaminant). Chairs and tables would be classified as Tier 3 products, meaning children typically have less than one hour exposure to them. By the same deadline, manufacturers classified as “largest” (manufacturers have gross annual sales between 250 million and one billion dollars) would be required to report if these products have a CHCC under the same conditions given above.  The “largest” manufacturers have until August of 2014 to report on their Tier 3 products, and this staggered reporting will continue through “medium”, “small”, “smaller”, and “tiny” manufacturers until all covered products from all levels of manufacturer are reported by August of 2018.

In addition to Washington State’s requirements, on December 1, 2013, New York State will prohibit TCEP in products for children three years old and under. Since July of 2010, Vermont has prohibited consumer products containing more than 0.1% of brominated flame retardants, but has recently placed that same limit on TCEP and TDCPP in residential furniture, to begin January 1, 2014. Maryland has also restricted TCEP to no more than 0.1% in products intended for children three years old and under, and this took effect October 1, 2013. Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have introduced legislation restricting flame retardants both in children’s products and residential upholstered furniture. 

compliance important across the entire supply chain

Formaldehyde and flame retardants are deliberately added chemicals and serve a function in the product so it is unlikely they would appear as contaminants in appreciable quantities. Furniture manufacturers, therefore, can request proof of compliance from their suppliers of composite wood, foam cushions, and upholstery textiles that these products were manufactured without these chemicals, or in the case of formaldehyde, that the residual levels are well within regulatory guidelines.  If this proof is unavailable, then it would be prudent for a manufacturer to test his materials, preferably before they are turned into a finished product. This strategy would also apply to tests for any applicable Proposition 65 chemicals or any chemicals on the Washington State list for children’s products. Ideally, the supplier would send samples directly to the test lab before the raw materials are sent to the manufacturer. Upon passing results, then the raw materials may be shipped.

Find more information on visit SGS Home Furnishings and Houseware page.

For further information, please contact:

Paul Milne
Consumer Testing Services
Technical Manager RSTS
SGS North America, Inc.
t: +1 973 461 7924