Children’s products, mattress foam and upholstered furniture covered

California governor Jerry Brown has signed into law a ban on the use of most flame retardants in residential upholstered furniture, children’s products and mattress foam.

The US state – which recently overtook the UK to become the world’s fifth-largest economy – will bar the sale of covered products containing, or with constituent parts containing, flame retardants at levels above 1,000 parts per million, beginning in 2020.

California lawmakers have cited concern with the widespread exposure to the substances, and such potential adverse health effects as endocrine disruption and cancer. According to the bill’s analysis document, flame retardants “do not provide a meaningful fire safety benefit,” and it is “senseless to allow these toxic chemical to continue being used”.

The requirements extend to new upholstered furniture, the interior foam of mattresses and children’s products such as bassinets, playmats, highchairs, infant carriers and strollers. Replacement parts used in the repair or restoration of reupholstered furniture are also covered.

Covered substances

As originally introduced, the bill (AB 2998) applied to all substances with a functional use to resist or inhibit the spread of a fire. But amendments in the Senate resulted in a more refined definition that will allow for the use of certain inorganic, non-halogenated substances.

In this way, the law covers a slightly narrower collection of substances than a sweeping flame retardant ban, set to take effect in Maine in 2019. That law, however, does not extend to children’s products or mattress components.

The California law also stops short of a flame retardant ordinance passed by one of its most populous cities, San Francisco, in that it does not apply to electronic components of covered products.

Existing California law requires furniture to bear a label indicating whether or not it contains added chemical flame retardants. And the state has banned the flame retardants pentaBDE and octaBDE from any product above a 0.1% threshold.

These requirements will remain in place despite the new law.

‘Science over propaganda’

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), the California Chamber of Commerce, the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), the Toy Association and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (Rila) all registered their opposition to the measure.

The ACC’s North American Flame Retardant Alliance (Nafra) has defended that the substances’ use in consumer products serves as an “important fire safety tool”. 

But a variety of NGOs, firefighter groups and architectural, healthcare and furniture organisations support the measure.

NGO the Center for Environmental Health’s Alvaro Casanova said the law represents a public health victory, and is a “testament to what is possible when lawmakers follow sound science over chemical industry propaganda”.