California governor orders overhaul of furniture flammability standard

California Gov. Jerry Brown has asked the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation to review the state’s existing flammability standard for upholstered furniture—California Technical Bulletin 117—and recommend changes that would reduce the use of chemical flame retardants in furniture foam while continuing to ensure fire safety. FR-treated foam is used to pass the open-flame fire performance requirements of TB 117. Although TB 117 is mandatory only in California, much of the upholstered furniture sold in the United States is manufactured to meet this standard.

“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,” Brown said in a June 18 news release. “We must find better ways to meet fire safety standards by reducing and eliminating—wherever possible—dangerous chemicals.”

TB 117 will be updated to reflect modern manufacturing methods that can lower the use of harmful chemicals, the state said. The process to change these regulations will include workshops and the opportunity for public comment, as well as administrative review.

Proposed changes to TB 117 would not impact mattresses manufactured or sold in California. Mattresses sold in that state and throughout the United States must meet federal cigarette-ignition (16 CFR Part 1632) and open-flame (16 CRF Part 1633) flammability standards that pre-empt an individual state’s flammability regulations. Most mattresses meet the federal mattress open-flame standard using an FR barrier fabric, an approach that is different from that targeted by Brown’s action.

On June 27, Bureau Chief Tonya Blood announced a new draft regulation, TB 117-2012, to replace the old standard.

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