Measure extends to mattresses and restricts existing and future substances ‘regardless of safety’

By Kelly Franklin, Chemical Watch

California’s legislature has passed a bill banning the use of most flame retardants in children’s products, mattresses and upholstered furniture, over the objection of industry groups.

The Assembly voted 52-12 on 29 August to concur in Senate amendments to the measure (AB 2998). Their vote sends the bill to the governor’s desk, where it is expected to be signed into law.

According to the bill’s supporters, flame retardants have been “needlessly used” in products despite their links to cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and endocrine disruption.

But even in the final hours of the state legislative session, an industry coalition – including the American Chemistry Council, children’s product groups JPMA and the Toy Association, retailers association Rila, as well as California industry bodies – wrote to Assembly members urging them to oppose the bill.

The industry groups argued that flame retardants are an effective tool to combat fire risk, and that the bill’s broad definition of the substances “limits effective product design by not only restricting the vast majority of today’s flame retardant chemicals, but also those that may be developed in the future, regardless of their safety profile”.

Determining the toxicity of products or chemicals “should be grounded in sound science, not determined by political expediency”, the coalition wrote.

“This is exactly why the legislature created the [state’s] Safer Consumer Products programme … to identify, prioritise, and, as necessary, evaluate chemicals in consumer products and decide if any regulation is necessary”, it said.

The ACC’s North American Flame Retardant Alliance (Nafra) told Chemical Watch the bill is “based on outdated or inaccurate claims”, and that bans relying on them “arguably increase fire risk and bypass ongoing safer consumer product regulation already being undertaken by the state.”

The broader coalition also noted that the conflict between AB 2998 and a recently passed flame retardant ordinance in San Francisco creates “a patchwork of laws that unnecessarily increase compliance costs”. The city’s ordinance covers electronic components of furniture and children’s products, a controversial requirement that some in industry had hoped the state’s bill would supersede.

The International Sleep Products Association (ISPA) also had “aggressively opposed” the bill, which – unlike flame retardant bans in other states – extends to mattresses.

But according to a public statement from the group, during the Senate’s consideration of the bill, ISPA “persuaded the bill’s author to significantly amend the ban to limit its scope for mattresses to prohibit only [flame retardant] chemicals used in foam, in effect excluding from the ban all FR barriers used in mattresses.”

In exchange, it said, ISPA has agreed to survey mattress manufacturers every three years regarding the types of chemicals used in mattress barriers to meet federal flammability standards.

These amendments led the group to drop its opposition, though it did not sign on in support.

‘Model for the nation to follow’

Despite industry’s concerns, the bill’s backers are hailing the passage of AB 2998 as a “landmark public health victory”.

California’s law “will serve as a model for the nation to follow”, said Alvaro Casanova, California policy manager for the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) – one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

“Flame-retardant chemicals offer little-added fire safety benefit, but exposure to smoke that carries these toxins increases the already substantial risk our firefighters face from job-related cancer,” said Brian Rice, president of California Professional Firefighters (CPF), which also backed the bill.

Avinash Kar, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council said the bill “ends unnecessary exposure to toxic flame retardant chemicals in many household products” .

“The chemicals do not make these products any safer – and it is time to get rid of them,” he added.