How trends in chemical regulation could affect mattress manufacturers

Betsi Robinson headshot
Betsi Robinson
Associate Editor
If your business is sleep products, this month’s cover story by Gary James is a must-read from the first word to the last. That’s because regulatory issues can be a real threat to any company’s product lines and profitability.

This particular story, suggested by the International Sleep Products Association’s Sleep Products Safety Council, provides a timely update on the changing landscape of chemical regulation and outlines why we in the mattress industry need to keep a close eye on it.

Fortunately, some recent developments in California have no direct impact on mattress producers—at least for now. For example, a revised flammability standard that reduces the need to use flame-retardant chemicals in upholstered furniture took effect Jan. 1, as did another measure that requires disclosure through a content statement whether an upholstery product contains added FR chemicals. Since the Golden State does not consider mattresses to be upholstered furniture, these new rules don’t apply to our industry.

But manufacturers and retailers of all products are subject to California’s Proposition 65, which requires them to disclose whether certain identified chemicals that have the potential to cause harm are present in their products, workplaces or retail stores. More than 800 chemicals are included on the state’s ever-growing Prop 65 list. Failure to uphold Prop 65 can be costly: In 2012, 352 lawsuits filed against alleged violators were settled, costing the affected manufacturers and retailers a total of $17.4 million.

Following California’s lead, more than two dozen states are eyeing legislation aimed at the use of chemicals in consumer products, particularly in furniture and children’s products, according to the American Home Furnishings Alliance. In Vermont, a new disclosure law covers the presence of toxic chemicals in children’s products, including cribs and kids’ mattresses and bedding. The current list of 66 chemicals should have little, if any, impact on mattress manufacturers, but that could change as the list evolves. Washington and Maine have enacted similar laws.

Indeed, figures tracked by the National Conference of State Legislatures show that state interest in chemical regulation is more intense than ever, with 577 bills on the topic in 43 states just last year.

Why is this a problem for our industry? Because such a piecemeal regulatory approach can be costly and time-consuming for suppliers and manufacturers who must track and comply with myriad rules that vary from state to state.

The root of the problem is that Congress has been slow to update the Toxic Substances Control Act, a federal law enacted in 1976 to regulate chemicals in commerce. Notes Robert Flagg, senior director of federal affairs for the American Chemistry Council, the law needs a major overhaul to reflect the many advances in both science and society in the past 40 years.

Recognizing that chemical regulation should be a national undertaking, not a state-by-state endeavor, ISPA has joined the American Alliance for Innovation, a coalition of more than 180 trade associations pushing for TSCA reform. Such reform should protect consumers and the environment as well as the ability of industry to innovate.

In the absence of TSCA reform, more states may expand regulation of an increasing range of products. And that’s precisely why this issue is important to you. You’ll find strategies in our story to help your company stay on top of potential issues posed by today’s fractured regulatory landscape.

With this month’s cover story, BedTimes continues its tradition of exploring important product safety and regulatory issues that can affect how ISPA members make and sell mattresses. We plan to keep an eye on this one, so watch for updates down the road.