Thursday, June 12, 2014

New York Senate Considers Prohibiting the Use of Chemical Flame Retardants on Residential Upholstered Furniture

According to supporters of the bill Bill S4780A-2013 --

"Recent studies have shown that approximately 94 percent of couches manufactured after 2005 contain chemical flame retardants - in amounts capable of being measured in pounds. The flame retardant chemicals were added in response to a 1975 California flammability standard, TB 117, which was developed in response to concerns about the large number of cigarette fires.

"Scientific studies have demonstrated that meeting the requirements of TB 117 did not accurately reflect real-world fire behavior and that the addition of chemical flame retardants offered very little additional effectiveness. A study conducted by the United States Department of Commerce, National Bureau of Standards, found that there were no significant differences in fire resistance between treated and untreated foams.

"The chemical flame retardants migrate out of furniture and into household dust. Because of their tendency to put items in their mouth, toddlers typically have three times the level of flame retardants as their parents. This exposure is on top of what babies are born with. An article in the Chicago Tribune stated "A typical American baby is born with the highest recorded concentrations of flame retardants among infants in the world." Many flame retardants, most notably halogenated chemical retardants, have been associated with adverse health impacts. For example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission identified the flame retardant Tris as a threat to human health, and California has identified Tris as a suspected human carcinogen. In addition, when combusted, chemical flame retardants can also form harmful by-products with the potential to affect the health of firefighters adversely. A recent study in San Francisco found that firefighters had two to three times the rate of flame retardants in their blood stream than average and found that the 110 female firefighters in the study experienced a risk of breast cancer that was nearly six times higher than the general population.

In addition, there is precedent for banning dangerous flame retardants. New York State has previously banned the use of the brominated flame retardant PentaBDE, and banned the use of Tris (TCEP) in children's products.

California has recently adopted revisions to TB 117, setting forth a new smolder standard that will allow manufactures to make upholstered furniture without the use of chemical flame retardants.This bill will require upholstered furniture for sale in New York to meet the recently adopted California standard. Removing toxic chemicals from upholstered furniture will protect public health and make it safer for emergency responders to fight fires.

The bill has passed the New York Senate Environmental Conservation Committee and is reported to be supported by the furniture industry, fire fighters and New York non-governmental organizations.

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