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Governor Orders Change in State Policy on Flame Retardants in Furniture

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An average-sized sofa can contain two pounds of flame-retardant chemicals.

An executive order from Governor Jerry Brown's office may force changes in the way furniture is made across the country. The goal is to remove flame-retardant chemicals that can make people sick.
 
The order seeks to change Technical Bulletin 117, a law first enacted in 1975, which required that foam inside upholstered furniture be treated with flame-retardant chemicals.
 
Under TB117, medium-sized sofas can amount to two or three pounds of chemicals.
 
Today, 80 percent of furniture sold in the United States meets this standard, according to the American Home Furnishings Alliance
 
Some of these chemicals have been linked to cancer and fertility problems. Studies show the chemicals don't effectively prevent fires, either.
 
Monday’s order from Brown’s office to the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation, demands that the agency find a way to make furniture fire resistant while reducing use of the chemicals.
 
“Toxic flame retardants are found in everything from high chairs to couches and a growing body of evidence suggests that these chemicals harm human health and the environment,” said Governor Brown. “We must find better ways to meet fire safety standards by reducing and eliminating—wherever possible—dangerous chemicals.”
 
State lawmakers have tried five times in recent years to change TB 117. Four of those attempts came from Senator Mark Leno. Each of his bills was defeated after intense lobbying from the chemical industry.
 
Leno called Monday's announcement a victory.
 
“In a one-page press release, the governor uses the terms ‘toxic’ or ‘dangerous’ flame retardants 10  times,” said Leno.
 
“Nothing could be more unequivocal that these are dangerous chemicals, that they are not needed to prevent fires, and that we are going to change Technical Bulletin 117.” 
 
Russ Heimerich, a spokesman with the California Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the Bureau of Home Furnishings, says the agency had already been examining its 40-year old flammability standard, including looking into newer technologies, such as fire-proof barriers that can go between a sofa’s fabric covering and the foam inside.
 
“It’s become obvious to us that there are other ways to make furniture fire-resistant,” said Heimerich.
 
Brown’s order doesn’t specifically set a timeline for changing the law, but Heimerich says a new draft regulation could be out as soon as August, with a new law in place within a year.
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