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Sarah Janssen’s Blog

California will update flammability standard and make toxic couches a thing of the past!

Sarah Janssen

Posted June 18, 2012

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Today Governor Brown made a historic and significant announcement when he directed a state agency to replace an outdated and ineffective flammability standard, TB 117, with an updated standard that will eliminate the use of unnecessary and toxic chemicals while providing better fire safety.  Governor Brown has taken a strong position that favors public health over corporate profits.  This directive will have a significant public health impact by reducing exposure to toxic chemicals in not just California but across the U.S.

California has a unique flammability standard, TB 117, for upholstered furniture sold in the state. All upholstered foam furniture in California must be in compliance with this standard and though the standard doesn’t require the use of chemicals, the cheapest way to meet it has been to saturate furniture foam with toxic flame retardant chemicals. Millions of pounds of toxic chemicals are used for just this purpose, every year.  And because couches are not specially made just for California, they are found in furniture sold across the country. Flame retardants have also been found in the foam used in children’s products and in food.

The trouble is - as well-intentioned as the standard may be - it has never been proven to be effective and as a recent hard hitting investigative series by the Chicago Tribune revealed, the chemical industry has used deception, lots of money and lies to perpetuate the myth of the efficacy of these chemicals. Improved building codes requiring smoke detectors and water sprinklers, self-extinguishing cigarettes, and overall decreased rates of smoking have had a much bigger impact on the fewer number of fires and fire deaths observed over the past few decades.   

One of the reasons we are so over-exposed to flame retardants is that they don’t stay put in furniture foam or electronics but migrate out and attach to dust particles which are inhaled or ingested. California homes have up to ten times higher amounts of flame retardants in house dust when compared to other parts of the U.S. or Canada. Furniture outside of California also carries the TB 117 label, and as a result, the U.S. population is much more highly exposed than anywhere else in the world and nearly everyone carries residues of these chemicals in their bodies.

A quote from the press statement says

“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,” said Governor Brown. “We must find better ways to meet fire safety standards by reducing and eliminating – wherever possible – dangerous chemicals.”

The Governor’s directive will be followed by public hearings and an administrative process that could take over a year to put in place. Ultimately, this change will result in fewer toxic chemicals in your home and as a result fewer toxic chemicals in our bodies.  It is a huge step forward in solving a problem that started in California over four decades ago and has resulted in contamination of homes across the country.

Thank you to our California members who sent Governor Brown a message asking him to update this standard.

And thank you Governor Brown for doing the right thing and protecting California and the rest of the country from unnecessary and toxic chemicals in our homes!

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NadineJun 19 2012 10:38 AM

II wish it wouldnt take this long to remove all this toxins from our everyday life

Heidi WelchJun 19 2012 01:47 PM

Sarah, thank you for working on this critical issue. Having an 18 year old daughter with ongoing endocrine disruption problems over this past decade has been difficult, and while I can not verify that flame retardants have caused this condition, they have surely added fuel to the fire in her health issues. As a parent it is difficult to battle a government when you are busy trying to care for the medical needs of your child, and thus, you are my voice. Both you and the NRDC are to be commended!

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