Proposed legislation covers mattresses, children’s products and upholstered furniture

By Kelly Franklin, Chemical Watch

California’s legislature is poised to approve a bill restricting the use of most flame retardants in mattresses, upholstered furniture and children’s products.

The state’s Senate passed an amended version of AB 2998 by a 29-9 margin on Monday evening. The Assembly approved its own version in May.

The measure calls for banning the sale of covered products that contain – or that have constituent components containing – flame retardants at levels above 1,000 parts per million (ppm). The ban will take effect from 1 January 2020.

And although passage of the law would not be the first ban on flame retardants from children’s products and upholstered furniture in the US, mattresses have thus far been largely excluded from the debate.

In this way, California’s action would extend beyond similar measures in Maine and in Rhode Island.

Senate amendments

A key change in the Senate’s version of the bill from that already passed by the Assembly limits the flame retardant restriction for mattresses to the products’ foam. Other mattress components, as well as thread or fibre used to stitch these together, are explicitly exempted.

Such a concession is significant, given that mattresses are required to meet federal flammability standards that include an ‘open flame’ test. California has worked in recent years to remove a similar requirement from upholstered furniture flammability standards, amid concerns that manufacturers use added chemical flame retardants to achieve compliance.

However, the amended bill calls for the International Sleep Products Association to conduct a survey of mattress products to submit to the state on a triennial basis. The data collected by the trade group is to include a list of fibres and materials used to meet flammability standards, flame retardants used above 1,000ppm and how those chemicals are incorporated, among others.

The Senate’s version of the bill also narrows the flame retardants covered. These are now defined as substances with a functional use of resisting or inhibiting the spread of fire, and that are:

a halogenated, organophosphorus, organonitrogen or nanoscale chemical;

a ‘designated chemical’ under California’s biomonitoring programme; or

included in Washington state’s list of chemicals of high concern to children (CHCC) list.

The measure does not, however, preempt San Francisco’s flame retardant ban. Unlike AB 2998, the city’s regulation also extends to electronic components of the products it covers.

For and against

The bill is co-sponsored by the California Professional Firefighters organisation and by NGOs Center for Environmental Health (CEH) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Dozens of other groups have also filed their support, including the business alliance Sustainable Furnishings Council, architecture firm Perkins+Will, healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente and furniture retailer Room & Board.

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