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Quick overview re: Flame Retardants in Upholstered Furniture

Condo Sofa designs are built using materials containing zero flame retardants, and passed tests in November 2013 to be in compliance with the new TB 117-2013 law signed into effect January 1, 2014. 

Our Condo Sofa designs were fully compliant with the newer standard signed by Governor Brown in November 2013.  We had already removed all chemical flame retardants from our furniture designs and were first conventionally constructed furniture designs to voluntarily alter our construction to comply California chemical flame retardants legislation that went into effect January 1, 2015.

Please read the updated FAQ's on Dr. Arlene Blum's website for the Green Science Policy Institute at


Here's the historic overview:

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 had to 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California, a state which lately is recognized for clean air and other forward-thinking legislation, has kept an outdated law on its books since 1975, called Technical Bulletin 117, which required the inclusion of flame retardants in residential home furnishings like upholstered seating. (Update: TB-117, signed in November 2013, does not ban the chemical flame retardants, it just does not require them.  They will be prohibited, we hear, on January 1, 2015 - we already removed them from all parts of our Condo Sofa designs by 2012.)

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 in use on residential home furnishings to this day. 

The three major chemical companies involved in the manufacture of the flame retardants for furniture production, Chemtura, Albemarle, and ICL, successfully lobbied the California legislature for 38 years to keep TB117 in place.  When the chemical companies spend over 20 million dollars in a single year to lobby California’s legislature, it 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 and its profit 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. Business likes regulation in one sense: it's easier to manage expenses and logistics for one type of foam than to deal in two, and risk legal exposure should an order be filled incorrectly.

"I'm allergic to things that don't make sense." - Ross Endicott

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 were only required in California by a law that could not stand much longer in the face of growing consumer awareness and academic scrutiny.  ( Update 2013-12-30: While we are pleased with the changes brought about by the November signing of TB 117-2013, we remain skeptical that all manufacturers can make the switch to zero flame retardant foam by January 1, 2015 - changing a seat cushion on a successful design is a littl e more nuanced than swapping materials A for B...)  We decided to eradicate from our own designs all the flame retardants of questionable merit, making our furniture temporarily illegal for sale in California.  As long as we aspired to serve a primarily New England market as a very small business, this was an easy decision with little financial consequence to us.  When California laws were updated, we were the only ones with designs that removed all toxic flame retardants from conventionally designed furniture, though others must necessarily follow suit to be able to sell in California by 2015. (For now, smart consumers must continue to agitate to get all the furniture makers to clean up their foam. Your purchasing power is the strongest influence.)

We sought to remove and replace unnecessary toxic materials with less dangerous materials, provided we could do so without adding to the cost or lowering the quality of our furniture. Condo Sofa is a conventionally built line of furniture with the best of old school construction eight-way hand-tied springs) and new technology (easily modifiable frame styles and features, meaning we can fit a piece to your body or your wall space, or both), meaning we can modify our nontoxic sofa designs without compromising quality.  It also means we are much less expensive than 100% organic options or custom furniture, which often start with far more expensive materials (i.e. organic vs. hot house brocolli).

Wherever you shop, demand furniture with zero chemical flame retardants - do not poison yourselves, friends, family, or pets!

Thank you.

Email questions to Ross@condofurniture.com