Revising Flammability Standards to Reduce Flame Retardants in Furniture

by Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP

[author: Heather Zinkiewicz]

On June 18, 2012, Governor Brown directed the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (“Bureau”) to recommend changes to California’s four-decade-old flammability standard for upholstered furniture. Specifically, Governor Brown is seeking to reduce toxic flame retardants in furniture while still providing fire safety. Toxic flame retardants are found in a variety of items, such as high chairs and couches. Evidence suggests that toxic flame retardants harm the environment and are linked to liver and thyroid toxicity, neurological problems, and reproductive issues.

The current guideline requires furniture and children’s products to withstand igniting when exposed to an open flame for up to twelve seconds. This standard has long been criticized by environmentalists, who say it leads to the increased use of flame retardant chemicals. Per Governor Brown’s instruction, this guideline will be revised to reflect modern manufacturing methods that can lower the use of harmful chemicals, including flame retardants, while protecting public safety.


Studies show that children, women, and firefighters are affected by these toxic chemicals. A 2008 Environmental Working Group study found that toddlers often have three times the level of flame retardant chemicals in their bodies as their parents. In fact, California children have some of the highest levels of toxic flame retardants in their bodies.

Scientists at Cal/EPA have found that California women have higher levels of toxic flame retardants in their breast tissue than women in other states and countries. Researchers have found statistically significant links between flame retardant levels in California women and reduced fertility.

Numerous studies also show that firefighters have significantly elevated rates of cancer, and a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine concluded that firefighters have a significantly elevated risk of cancer that may be caused by toxic chemicals they inhale, such as flame retardants.

The New Trend

Governor Brown’s new direction reflects a growing trend by state and federal agencies to cut flame retardant chemical use. For example, three of the eighteen chemicals that the US Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) recently prioritized for risk assessment under the Toxic Substances Control Act are flame retardants. This risk assessment is not regulatory by itself, but it can provide grounds for future EPA regulations.

The EPA has also proposed restricting the use of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) as flame retardants in furniture. The EPA’s proposed rule includes a test rule and a significant new use rule that will restrict new uses of PBDEs unless producers or users provide data that demonstrate the chemicals’ safety. The EPA recently extended the public comment period for this proposed rule due to concerns from the aerospace industry.

Revising Flammability Standards is Consistent With Green Chemistry

While California’s overall “green chemistry” initiative continues to stall, Governor Brown’s direction is consistent with green chemistry principles. The goal of green chemistry is to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals by encouraging products to be designed in a safe manner, rather than waiting to see what damage the product or chemical causes later. In effect, Governor Brown is ordering that the Bureau consider “green chemistry” in revising the flammability standards. Governor Brown has ordered the Bureau to reduce toxic flame retardants, seeking to change the design, manufacture, and/or distribution process for upholstered furniture in order to reduce the generation of hazardous substances. This will in turn reduce toxic exposures, precisely in line with the goals of green chemistry.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP

Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.