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Monday, December 11, 2023 | Back issues
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Cancer Studies Prompt California Code Updates

(CN) - Modernizing nearly 40-year-old guidelines linked to cancer and fertility issues, California has approved new state flammability standards for upholstered furniture.

Taking mandatory effect Jan. 1, 2015, the year-long administrative effort "requires the use of barrier materials with smolder-prone materials and tests the interactions of all the materials that go into a piece of upholstered furniture," Gov. Jerry Brown said in Sacramento on Thursday.

The standards aim to curb common ignition sources of upholstered furniture, including smoldering cigarettes, space heaters and extension cords.

A statement from Brown's office cites numerous studies linking exposure to the chemicals used currently as flame retardants in upholstered furniture to cancer and fertility issues.

The chemicals also "disproportionately impact children," the release states. One study concluded toddlers can have up to three times the level of flame retardants in their bodies as their parents.

"Today, California is curbing toxic chemicals found in everything from high chairs to sofas," Brown said in a statement. "These new standards will keep the furniture in our homes fire-safe and limit unnecessary exposure to toxic flame retardants."

Previous state standards included an open-flame test for filling materials, like foam, which were treated with flame retardants.

New standards eliminate an open flame test for the materials.

A number of manufacturers have claimed they will no longer need to use flame retardants under the updated standards, Brown said, and will either meet requirements through the use of additional smolder-resistant cover fabrics or smolder-resistant barriers beneath cover fabrics.

California's Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation led the standard update efforts.

Its chief, Tonya Blood, noted that "the previous standards focused predominantly on filling materials, where fires don't actually start."

"The new standards were developed to address where the fire begins, which is the cover fabric, and to focus on the interactions of the cover fabric and filling materials," Blood added.

Brown initially directed state agencies to revise the flammability standards in 2012.

"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 at the time. "We must find better ways to meet fire safety standards by reducing and eliminating - wherever possible - dangerous chemicals."

Companies may begin manufacturing to the new standards on Jan. 1, 2014, and will have a year to complete the transition.

The bureau posted the full text of the update, based on a comprehensive review, statewide workshops and public comment, online.

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