On November 21, 2013, California announced new regulations regarding the fire safety of upholstered furniture and child care products. While only binding on products sold in California, the California standards are the national de facto standard and are expected to continue to be so for some time. The regulatory changes are intended to allow manufacturers to make upholstered items without the need for flame retardant chemicals. The new regulations include new testing procedures, which move from an open flame test to a smolder test, and more flexible labeling requirements. The regulations now also exempt almost all upholstered infant care items. Manufacturers may begin producing items that comply with the new regulations as early as January 1, 2014. All manufacturers will need to comply with the new testing and labeling requirements by January 1, 2015.
The use of fire retardant chemicals is a growing area of focus for a number of consumer advocacy and environmental protection groups across the country. The Center for Environmental Health released a report just last week regarding fire retardant chemicals in children's furniture, and the reform of California's furniture flammability standards was a major initiative of the Green Science Policy Institute. HBO also just recently released the documentary Toxic Hot Seat, which focuses on alleged risks of birth defects and cancer from flame retardant chemicals. With the changes in California regulations allowing for more fire retardant free furniture, manufacturers and retailers should expect consumer demand for fire-retardant free products to grow and to encounter more consumers who are educated on the issue.
With increased focus from advocacy organizations on the presence of fire retardants, manufacturers should be especially vigilant in their Proposition 65 warnings for upholstered items. California's focus on fire retardant chemicals may also lead to the inclusion of upholstered items in the first "Priority Products" list under California's new Safer Consumer Products regulations, slated for release in March 2014.