Saying goodbye to flame retardants

Great article in the Chicago Tribune last Friday by Michael Hawthorne and Sam Roe. For decades, furniture manufacturers in the United States have poured pounds of toxic chemicals into their products in order to comply with a particular flammability standard out of California – specifically known as Technical Bulletin 117. TB 117 was responsible for the presence of flame retardant chemicals in countless homes across America. Now it turns out those chemicals may not have been helping. In fact, they may have been harmful.

Governor Jerry Brown of California moved to do away with TB 117 after a series of articles in the Tribune showed that chemical and tobacco concerns conducted stealth campaigns to promote the use of flame retardants – even though government research shows they really don’t provide much protection.

A new standard – to be effective in 2014, requires upholstered furniture to resist the flame of a smoking cigarette – as the cigarette is the single largest cause of furniture fires. The new standard is based upon a voluntary standard adopted in the furniture industry and a standard proposed by the United States Consumer Product Safety Comission[“USCSPC”]. The USCPSC found the specially designed furniture prevents more fires than dousing retardants on cushions and sofas.

Additionally, the new standards mean less flame retardants in furniture and in houses. And ultimately less flame retardants in the people who live in those houses and sit on that furniture. Most flame retardants chemicals use a chemical known as chlorinated tris. The same chemical was removed from baby pajamas 30 years ago when studies determined it could mutate DNA. Ugh.

And finally, in news that will shock no one, as scientists began raising concerns about flame retardants, the chemical industry blocked efforts to change flammability standards. And in order to show how deep their concerns ran, the industry trotted out a prominent surgeon to talk about all the small children burned up in these incidents. People began looking into his claims however and found out said babies were imaginary. Additionally the group that sponsored this doctor – Citizens for Fire Safety – was actually a front for several companies that made – you guessed it – flame retardant treatments.

Kudos to the Tribune