Upholstered Furniture Regulatory Landscape Continues to Evolve
Recently signed in California, Senate Bill 1019 ensures consumer’s right to choose between treated and non-treated furniture.
In 2013, in response to growing concerns about the toxicity of flameretardants, California updated its Technical Bulletin (TB) 117-2013 to allow furniture that has not been treated with flame-retardant to be certified. TB 117- 2013 updated the State’s 40-year old flammability standard for upholstered furniture, to take into account modern manufacturing methods that can reduce the use of harmful flame-retardants.
On September 30, 2014, California’s Governor, Jerry Brown, signed Senate Bill 1019 into law. This law now requires labelling on upholstered furniture sold in California to inform customers about whether added flame-retardants were used in manufacturing.
SB 1019 has no jurisdiction in any other states. However, other states with flammability requirements for upholstered furniture may choose to follow in California’s footsteps with regard to labelling.
This development means that consumers can now make informed decisions and choose whether or not to purchase goods manufactured with added flameretardants. All upholstered goods should now carry a label that clearly states:
- Furniture article meets California Technical Bulletin 117-2013
- Clearly marked X denoting whether flame retardants were added
To ensure that flame-retardant chemical statements made on the label are correct, manufacturers and suppliers must provide to the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (BEARHFTI), within 30 days of a request, documentation establishing their accuracy.
One critical point of SB 1019 is that it does not define a list of added flameretardants. The term can be broadly interpreted to all substances having property of inhibit or suppress the production of fire. Such an unclear definition makes it difficult for manufacturers to comply with the law.
Flame-retardants are chemical compounds added to manufactured materials to inhibit, suppress and to delay the production of flames to prevent the spread of fire. Research by the American Chemical Society shows that flame retardants are found in the vast majority of sofas. At the same time, the number of flame retardant substances being restricted or banned as harmful for human health has increased. Many domestic fire accidents involve upholstered furniture. Some components in these furniture products are highly flammable, especially polyurethane foam. The damage caused by furniture fires has a high human and social cost.
To address this problem, many countries require upholstered furniture to be resistant to fire and many sofa and furniture makers use chemical flameretardants in their products. The result has been widespread exposure to these chemicals, which have the potential to be harmful. The common flame retardant, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), is toxic and may damage the mental development of children. Due to their high lipophilicity, PBDEs can also be bio-accumulated along the food chain, eventually reaching humans. In addition, the State of California has defined the flame retardant chemical chlorinated Tris (tris (1,3-dichloro-2-proply) phosphate or TDCPP) as a known carcinogen.
As a result, people can be exposed to these toxic substances through household dust, by inhalation or ingestion. Infants can also take in these toxic chemicals through breast milk. To deal with the concern of flame-retardants, both the EU and the US regulate these chemicals to minimise their use.
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Matthew T. McGarrity
Consumer Testing Services
Technical Manager – Hardlines
SGS North America, Inc.
Consumer Testing Services
Assistant Technical Development
SGS Hong Kong Limited
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