December 1, 2013 – On November 28, 2012, Duke University and the University of California-Berkeley released a study on the presence of flame retardant chemicals in upholstered furniture. The study appeared in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
The American Home Furnishings Alliance was asked to respond to the results of the study, which found that foam from 85% of 102 residential sofas tested contained flame retardant chemicals. Forty-one of the foam samples were from sofas purchased prior to 2005. Among these, the most common FR chemicals detected were those associated with PentaBDE (39%) followed by TDCPP (24%).
Among the 61 samples that were purchased in 2005 or later, the most common FR chemical detected was TDCPP (52%). The study concluded that since the polyurethane foam industry voluntarily phased out use of PentaBDE chemical compounds in 2005, the use of TDCPP as a flame retardant for polyurethane foam increased.
AHFA Statement: “The American Home Furnishings Alliance is not aware of any evidence, and there is none in this study, linking the level of flame retardants typically found in upholstered home furnishings to human health problems.
Nevertheless, we agree with the authors of the study that additional research should be conducted on the chemicals currently used as flame retardants. These chemicals are used in the home furnishings industry for the sole purpose of meeting a stringent flammability standard mandated by the state of California.
California regulators themselves are now questioning their standard and the reliance it created on flame retardant chemicals. AHFA is working with those state officials in their efforts to balance the desire for the highest possible level of fire safety with the equally important goal of limiting exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.
For more than 100 years, AHFA and its member companies have been at the forefront of addressing any health or safety issues that involve the furniture that consumers buy for their homes. In addition to its efforts in California, AHFA also remains engaged with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in work on a federal flammability standard.”
In 1978, the home furnishings industry established the Upholstered Furniture Action Council (UFAC), which developed voluntary construction and material guidelines that make sofas and chairs resistant to ignition by a smoldering cigarette. Cigarettes are the leading cause of home fires involving furniture. The majority of upholstered furniture now manufactured in the United States conforms to these guidelines. (Consumers can easily find upholstered furniture that meets the UFAC criteria by looking for the gold UFAC hangtag in stores.)
Over the past 25 years, the number of U.S. household fires involving upholstered furniture has been reduced by more than 85 percent, due to:
- compliance with the voluntary UFAC standard;
- fewer smokers;
- increased use of residential smoke detectors; and, most recently,
- development of reduced ignition propensity (RIP)cigarettes.
Because of the positive results achieved by these industry and societal changes, AHFA has for many years advocated a federal flammability standard based on the UFAC smolder test. AHFA argued this point before a Congressional subcommittee in Washington, D.C., in July 2012, and reiterated the position in joint industry coalition comments submitted to the CPSC in June 2013.
UFAC’s work began immediately following the 1975 implementation of California Technical Bulletin 117, a mandatory standard for upholstered products sold in the state of California. TB 117 imposed a strict, open flame test intended to make upholstered furniture resistant to ignition sources like matches, lighters and candles. Flame retardant chemicals were introduced to the foam supply for residential furniture for the sole purpose of enabling upholstery manufacturers to meet the open flame test of TB 117.
Until recent publicity shed a national spotlight on the influence of the tobacco and chemical industries on the furniture flammability debate, the widespread perception was that TB 117 provided consumers with added safety. Failure to comply with this standard, even for products sold outside California, left furniture makers at the mercy of personal injury lawyers in the event their product was involved in a household fire.
The CPSC proposed a federal flammability standard based partly on California TB117 in 1997, 2001 and 2004. Over this period of time, AHFA supported a workable national standard but also consistently pointed to the growing body of evidence on the potential eco-toxicity of certain flame-retardant compounds.