Quick overview re: Flame Retardants in Upholstered Furniture
Important Note: It is presently unlawful for anyone to sell or transport into the state of California any upholstered furniture which does not contain chemical flame retardants. We, therefore, will not sell to any party that tells us over the phone or in emails or any other communication that there may be an intention to violate California laws and take our zero flame retardant furniture into California while laws forbid it.
We receive daily inquiries from California, some with optomistic indications that laws governing the use of flame retardants are changing soon. We welcome verifiable news that chemical flame retardants are not required in upholstered furniture in the state of California. Until that happens, however, our sofas and chairs made without flame retardants may not be shipped to any party that intends to transport our furniture into California. We obey all laws and expect customers to do the same. Thank you.
If you are searching for "sofas with no flame retardants" on this website, only the furniture by Condo Sofa is made without any flame retardants in any of the components. These are listed with parentheses after the name of the item, i.e. Oscar Loveseat (by Condo Sofa) and in the item description it will say "made using zero flame retardants".
What's going on?
Decades ago, chemicals were added to many products with the intent to improve consumers quality of life, and make more money for the businesses producing those chemicals. Promoting such improvements involved not only advertising to consumers, but supporting legislation to require the use of chemicals to ensure the safety of the public, even when the claims being used may have been misleading or altogether false.
The example we are addressing is one we take quite seriously: the addition of flame retardants to the foam used in manufacturing upholstery. Ironically, the current situation exists because California, a state which lately is recognized for clean air and other forward-thinking legislation, has kept an outdated law on its books since 1975, called Technical Bulletin 117, which requires the inclusion of flame retardants in residential home furnishings like upholstered seating.
So far, most chemicals used as flame retardants in furniture have all turned out to be carcinogenic and do not improve the safety of the products they are added to. While there is no apparent difference in the flammability of products with or without flame retardants, when the flame retardants do combust, the toxic fumes cause death and injury to consumers and to the fire fighters trying to save them.
Regulation is the source of huge profits for the chemical companies. Despite growing evidence that the flame retardants are not helping, but potentially adding to the dangers in consumers’ lives, TB117 remains on the books today.
The three major chemical companies involved in the manufacture of the flame retardants for furniture production, Chemtura, Albemarle, and ICL, have successfully lobbied the California legislature for over 37 years to keep TB117 in place. When the chemical companies spend over 20 million dollars in a single year to lobby California’s legislature, is can be assumed many more millions in revenue is at stake. For many years, chemical companies lobbied the California legislature to preserve their profit stream using tactics which included false testimony from expert witnesses, and claims by front organizations claiming to advocate for consumer safety, (yet formed by and for the chemical companies for their continued profit).
When a chemical flame retardant got tested for long enough to amass an irrefutable body of evidence to prove it dangerous, California would add it to its list of banned compounds (Prop 65) and then the chemical companies would readily replace that compound with another, a minor chemical alteration that would escape the ban and make identification and eradication harder and more costly. At the same time, the flow of revenues from selling these flame retardants would continue without interruption. California’s own list of banned toxins includes several variations of chemical flames retardants that have much in common with flame retardants now in use. In this way, the chemical companies have stayed a step or two ahead of states or federal actions to expose and stop the use of harmful chemical flame retardants in consumer products.
Policy and legislation are not adequately protecting Americans from the profit-minded interests of big business. The CPSC and the EPA, through the “wait and see” approach, permit toxic chemicals to be included in consumer products until they can be proven dangerous, then the specific chemical compound must be eliminated through a slow process of legislation. This inherently flawed approach to consumer protection leaves the public at the mercy of big business, which has only self-preservation of profits in mind, and far more money to spend on product development and legal challenges to new laws, legal liability defense, and lobbying tactics than the institutions that are meant to protect consumers.
Because California represents a sizable portion of the national economy for any business wanting to reach as many American consumers as possible, businesses reason that it makes no sense to produce furniture at one standard for California and another for the rest of the country. Legal liability for simply shipping the wrong materials to California is in itself cause for many companies to adopt one standard for materials and include flame retardants in everything, just to be certain.
Since becoming involved in the furniture industry in 2004, Endicott Home Furnishings has tried to apply a sensible approach to energy and clean living principles, using renewable energy (wood pellets for heat), recycling as much of the packaging as possible, etc. It made no sense, then, when designing a line of furniture for smaller, efficient, and often airtight homes, to include chemicals that are only required in California by a law that cannot stand much longer in the face of growing consumer awareness and academic scrutiny. Despite the optimism of academics and policy minded activists, we do not anticipate constructive change to be driven by better laws in the near future. We therefore decided to eradicate from our own designs those flame retardants of questionable merit, making our furniture illegal for sale in California. As long as we aspire to serve a primarily New England market as a very small business, this is an easy decision with little financial consequence to us.
We sought to remove and replace unnecessary toxic materials with less dangerous materials provided we could do so without adding to the cost and without lowering the quality of our furniture designs. As of June 2013, with the help of Dr. Heather Stapleton and fellow researchers at Duke University, we have replaced all components of our furniture line called “Condo Sofa” with materials containing zero flame retardants. This is conventionally built line of furniture with the best of old school construction and new technology, meaning we modify our designs but don't compromise on quality. It also means we are much less expensive than 100% organic options, which start and end with far more expensive materials.