How many times do we find that the strict regulations that define how we design for our clients, also affect our personal lives? One recent example comes to mind.
California’s well-intended “Open Flame Test” regulation for upholstered furniture (Technical Bulletin 117 or “TB117”), developed almost 40 years ago, has not only been proven to be ineffective in supporting fire safety, but is also linked to significant health issues.
This is a national issue, because although the regulation was developed in California , this regulation has become the de facto standard for all of North America for upholstered furniture.
Recently, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a new regulation titled “TB117-2013” that offers designers, end users, and consumers an option to meet fire safety for upholstered furniture and some baby products without the use of potentially toxic Flame Retardants (FRs). We now have safer, healthier product choices, using foam free of added FRs.
The key for this regulation is “choice,” as the new standard does not specifically prohibit the use of FRs in consumer products—it allows the consumer to choose.
Here are some questions you might have about TB117-2013:
- Why are FRs a health hazard? Studies have found elevated rates of cancers for fire fighters associated with the exposure to FRs. They have also been linked to:
• Decreased fertility
• Decreased memory and learning
• Lowered IQ in children
• Decreased birth weight
• Hormone interference
• Decreased sperm quality
• Damage to immune system, liver, and kidneys
• Thyroid disruption
Additionally, some FRs contaminate soil, wastewater, rivers, the ocean, fish, and marine mammals—which then contaminates the food supply. Once these chemicals are released into the environment and into our bodies, there is no known remediation strategy.
- How do FRs get into our bodies? FR chemicals leach out of the furniture foam, releasing dust into the air, a process that may accelerate as the foam ages. These chemicals get into our bodies when we breathe or touch contaminated dust.
- But don’t flame retardants provide safety for our clients and our families? The flame retardants in furniture foam to meet TB117 have not been found to prevent ignition or to reduce fire severity. FRs can actually make fires less survivable; when on fire, furniture treated with FRs when in flame gives off higher levels of carbon monoxide, soot, and smoke than untreated foam. Inhalation of these toxics gases is the major cause of fire deaths.
- What is allowed in 2014? In 2014, the manufacturers can continue to meet TB117, which uses the outdated “Open Flame Test” or chose to meet TB117-2013, which uses the new “Smolder Standard.” Manufacturers can continue to use foam that contains flame retardants (FRs) or FR-free foam.
- What is allowed in 2015? In 2015, the manufacturers will be required to meet TB 117-2013, using the “Smolder Standard” exclusively, but since the regulation does not prohibit the use of flame retardant chemicals, manufacturers can still use the harmful chemicals unless otherwise specified.
- What about my existing furniture at home? The majority of the FRs in sofas are in the foam seat cushions. If you suspect your furniture may contain FRs, you can have the foam tested. If the foam tests positive, a reupholstery shop can replace it with FR-free foam.
I’m proud to announce the Center for Environmental Health received a large grant from the HDR Foundation to get the word out to “purchasers” about this new regulation. They are developing easy-to-use tools that designers, our clients, and we personally can use to learn about product specifications and determine the availability of purchasing options. If we inform suppliers that we want FR-free products, we can pivot the market away from the use of FRs.
That’s why we need you! Designers and consumers can make a difference RIGHT NOW by specifying furniture to meet TB 117-2013 without the use of FR chemicals. By informing our clients and families about this new opportunity for the specification and/or purchase of FR-free upholstered products, we provide a powerful opportunity for our voices to contribute to market transformation; a shift to a healthier environment for everyone.
Together, we can make the difference and change the paradigm for human and environmental health. Let’s do it now!
For more information, check out http://www.ceh.org/campaigns/flame-retardants.
Image—Flickr CC: CS_McMahon