Purchasing Fire-Safe & Healthier Furniture

Information obtained from The Green Science Policy Institute.

“Along with the Center for Environmental Health and Health Care without Harm, we recently co-hosted a webinar to educate furniture purchasers on current fire standards and concerns for the future. For nearly 40 years, furniture in the U.S. and Canada contained harmful flame retardant chemicals to meet an ineffective California open flame standard called Technical Bulletin 117. This standard was replaced by a more effective smolder standard in California that led to a great reduction in the use of flame retardants. We happily shared with almost 200 webinar participants the good news that this California standard was recently adopted as the new federal furniture flammability standard in June 2021. This harmonization of the standard makes it easier for large purchasers and consumers alike to find furniture without flame retardants. 

Not all have welcomed this change. Those who profit from flame retardants and flammability testing continue to encourage the use of open flame standards. Such standards are likely to be met with flame retardants chemicals that have not been shown to increase fire safety overall. Rather, they delay time to ignition for a few seconds, but do not reduce heat output, and can create more smoke during combustion. Boston firefighter Jay Fleming suggested that the name “smoke accelerator” is more accurate than “flame retardant” to describe flame retardants like Tris that are commonly used in foam and plastic. Also, the Industry has been presenting misleading statistics such as the claim that fire deaths have increased in California since the adoption of our new smolder standard. However, they fail to mention that this rise is accounted for by an increase in wildfire deaths; fires associated with upholstered furniture have remained unchanged. For more examples of fact versus fiction on fire safety, flame retardants, and furniture, check out our blog here and view the webinar recording here.

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