What do Facebook, Kaiser Permanente, Staples and the San Francisco Department of Environment have in common? All four appear on a list of corporate and government entities that pledged to stop purchasing furniture treated with flame-retardant chemicals. The Center for Environmental Health (CEH), the organization behind the pledge, hopes to steer business away from furniture containing flame retardants, which have been linked to a range of health risks. All the offices on the list spend a combined $520 million on furniture every year.
The pledge coincides with new state legislation that will require manufacturers to attach labels to furniture treated with flame retardants. In September Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1019, which takes effect January 1, 2015.
Treating furniture with flame-retardant chemicals used to be standard procedure for meeting California’s furniture flammability code, known as Technical Bulletin 117.
“For a long time government regulations were promoting the use of these chemicals,” Charles Margulis of CEH tells Capital &
A consumer-rights bill that would require upholstered-furniture manufacturers to clearly disclose whether furniture sold in California contains flame-retardant chemicals recently received a huge boost when furniture manufacturers dropped their opposition to the measure and decided to support it. Senate Bill 1019, which is backed by firefighters, environmentalists and consumer protection advocates, is being bitterly fought by the chemical industry, whose campaign against regulation and clear public disclosure of flame-retardant chemicals is reminiscent of Big Tobacco’s fight against government controls.
The furniture makers, however, switched sides after state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) agreed to an amendment clarifying the definition of flame retardants.
“AHFA [the American Home Furnishings Alliance] and principal members of the furniture coalitions withdraw our opposition of the bill pursuant to the inclusion of the amendments agreed upon to define flame retardant chemicals and offer this letter of support for S1019,” Bill Perdue, AHFA’s vice president for regulatory affairs,
California Senate Bill 1019 (Mark Leno, D-San Francisco) passed the state Assembly’s Committee on Business, Professions and Consumer Protection by a 10-2 vote Tuesday. This was the second test in the Assembly of the measure, which would compel manufacturers of upholstered furniture to disclose on product tags if an item being sold contains flame-retardant chemicals.
In an investigative feature published the same day by Capital & Main, reporter Gary Cohn explored the connections between the chemicals and carcinogens, decreased fertility, hormone disruption and lower IQ development. In Cohn’s story, two California firefighters who had survived cancer stated they believed their cancers resulted from exposure to the flame retardants, which release toxic fumes when exposed to flame.
Leno’s bill, which received the endorsement of the Sacramento Bee Sunday, has gathered support from the Republican sides of the Senate and Assembly aisles. It must now face debate and an August vote in the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee,
For years firefighters and environmentalists have warned of the dangers from upholstered furniture treated with flame-retardant chemicals that are linked to cancer, decreased fertility, hormone disruption and lower IQ development. Although state safety regulations allow the use of flame retardants, they are not required — the choice is left to manufacturers. Today Californians wishing to buy a sofa or easy chair free of toxic chemicals are in for a surprise when they try to get information in stores about the presence or absence of flame retardants. An informal survey of West Los Angeles furniture showrooms recently encountered these scenes: