California has approved rules to curtail the presence of hazardous flame-retardant chemicals in furniture, Gov. Jerry Brown announced on Thursday.
"Today, California is curbing toxic chemicals found in everything from high chairs to sofas," Brown said in a release. "These new standards will keep the furniture in our homes fire-safe and limit unnecessary exposure to toxic flame retardants."
Health advocates have pushed for a rule change that would limit the sale of furniture containing chemically treated, flame-resistant foam. The new guidelines require furniture to be capable of withstanding smoldering fires, rather than the stricter open flame standard that had strengthened the case for using flame-resistant chemicals.
"We don't specify how manufacturers manufacture, we tell them they have to meet a standard," Department of Consumer Affairs spokesman Russ Heimerich said. Now that the open-flame safeguard is no longer required, Heimerich added, "most of them have said it doesn't make sense to spend that extra money."
The new rules take effect Jan. 1, which will open a one-year window in which furniture makers can build to either the old or the incoming standard. Compliance with the new rules will become mandatory on Jan. 1, 2015.
Advocates pushing for the change have warned that the flame-repelling chemicals carry serious health risks, both for firefighters breathing in the smoke released in blazes and for children who are exposed to the chemical dust that filters out of furniture. They say most fires begin with smoldering fires, not open blazes.
Opposing the rules have been chemical companies arguing that the downgraded standards expose people to a higher risk of fire.
"Families in California should have serious concerns that state officials are lowering fire standards and removing an important layer of fire protection that has benefited Californians for more than 35 years," Steve Risotto of the industry-backed North American Flame Retardant Alliance said in a statement.
PHOTO: Members of the Elk Grove Community Services District Fire Department clean up the remains of a house fire on December 7, 2005. The Sacramento Bee/Autumn Cruz.