The crusade against the use of FR chemicals in foam for upholstered furniture was bolstered in 2013 by an HBO documentary titled, “Toxic Hot Seat.” The film gave millions of consumers reason to believe their sofas may make them ill. Although little is currently known about possible health impacts of being exposed to FR chemicals in the amounts that might be present in household dust, the Green Science Policy Institute and other research organizations continue to investigate.
Individual states, however, have been unwilling to wait on either the scientific results or efforts on the federal level to regulate the use of these chemicals. More than two dozen states have introduced or announced plans to introduce legislation aimed at the use of chemicals in consumer products, and many of these measures specifically target FR chemicals in furniture and children’s products.
This state-level patchwork of chemical bans is the regulatory nightmare the furniture industry – and many other industries – hoped could be avoided by meaningful reform to the Toxic Substances Control Act. The House overwhelmingly approved the TSCA Modernization Act in June 2015, taking a targeted approach that leaves much of the existing regulatory framework in place. A bill awaiting action in the Senate would clamp down on state-by-state chemical laws. It’s not clear how differences between the House and Senate bills will be resolved in order for any reforms to be enacted.
For 35 years, AHFA has supported a national flammability standard focused on smolder ignition and has opposed flammability solutions that would increase chemical exposure to industry workers and furniture consumers.
Elimination of the open flame upholstery test in California prompted a massive shift to foam with no added FR chemicals among U.S. suppliers to the upholstered furniture industry. By the time California’s TB 117-2013 standard went into effect in January 2015, most AHFA member companies were no longer using foam with added FR chemicals and were labeling their products accordingly.
Nevertheless, individual state proposals to restrict or ban the use of specific FR chemicals include a broad array of requirements that complicate the labeling and marketing of upholstered products for national distribution. AHFA has severely limited resources for participating in state-level regulatory battles and continues to support federal TSCA reform that will curb the proliferation of state-by-state chemical laws. (August 2015)