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Quick overview re: Flame Retardants in Upholstered Furniture

Condo Sofa designs have been bench crafted using materials without chemical flame retardants since early 2012. We 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.

We expected the second half of the law’s implementation on January 1, 2015 to be a ban on the use of toxic flame retardant chemicals in furniture sold to residential consumers, but the law actually fell short of a ban.

Regardless, we swept all products without clear labelling to indicate they are made without chemical flame retardants, and do not sell any furniture that contains chemical flame retardants or added formaldehyde.

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

http://greensciencepolicy.org/faq/

 

An historic overview:

Decades ago, chemicals were added to many products because lobbyists succeeded in persuading legislators in only one state, California, to make the addition of flame retardants in foam components in household furnishings mandatory.  The supposed intent was to improve fire safety for consumers. Pushing for flame retardants to become mandatory involved not only advertising to consumers, but lobbying California’s legislature to require the use of chemicals to ensure the safety of the public, even though the claims made in support of the legislation may have been misleading or altogether false.

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 spent 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, making a molecular alteration that would sidestep only lead to a new round of testing that would lead to the same conclusion: carcinogenic again. 

To a large extent, the flow of revenues from making and selling chemical flame retardants continued without interruption.  California’s own list of banned toxins includes several variations of chemical flames retardants that have much in common with flame retardants still in use.  By using chemical alterations to switch compounds when one became a known carcinogen, chemical companies stayed a step or two ahead of state or federal actions to expose and stop the use of harmful chemical flame retardants in consumer products.

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.

That’s how California, a state usually recognized for clean air and other forward-thinking legislation, kept that misguided law on its books from 1975 until Governor Jerry Brown overhauled the bill, called Technical Bulletin 117, which required the inclusion of flame retardants in residential home furnishings like upholstered seating. TB-117 2013, signed in November 2013, ultimately fell short of banning chemical flame retardants, it just no longer requires them to be in the furniture, provided the furniture passes the same tests as it had been subjected to all along.  

So far as we know, every chemical used as flame retardants in furniture have 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.

Despite extensive evidence that the flame retardants are not helping, but potentially adding dangerous risk of cancer to consumers’ lives, some manufacturers still choose to use these very same chemicals in residential home furnishings.  

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.

"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 balanced approach to energy and clean living principles, using renewable energy (wood pellets for heat), recycling as much of the packaging as possible, etc.  Affordability and practicality had to stay central to our product selection. 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. 

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, expecting others would soon follow our example to be able to sell in California by 2015. (Again, the law never really banned the use of chemical flame retardants, so we find ourselves, more than 8 years after deciding to get rid of chemical flame retardants, still having this conversation.)

We decided to remove unnecessary toxic materials and replace them with less dangerous materials, provided we would not add to the cost or lower the quality of our designs. Condo Sofa is a conventionally built line of furniture with the best of old school construction (solid frame parts with eight-way hand-tied springs) and new technology (CAD frames and patterns) to be able to modify our nontoxic sofa designs without compromising quality.  We can modify frame styles and features, or we can fit a piece to your body or your wall space, or both. It also means our designs are much less expensive than 100% organic options or purely custom furniture, which often use certified organic materials not everyone needs, and which often add up to more than most people can afford.

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