The debate over chemical flame retardants seems to be heating up. The Center for Environmental Health, which helped encourage a rewrite of California’s regulations regarding safety standards in furniture manufacturing, announced last week that 16 major furniture manufacturers have now sworn off chemical flame retardants.
The companies, which include Facebook, Staples, Autodesk and Blue Cross Blue Sheild of Massachusetts, have pledged to stop buying furniture with chemical flame retardants in them. Several of the companies, like Staples and HDR Architecture, North America’s second-largest architectural firm, are national brands.
The pledge against chemical flame retardants
The movement is in response to new California standards that allow furniture manufacturers to opt out of adding chemical flame retardants to their products. Technical Bulletin 117-2013 also changed the mechanism for determining a product’s flammability risk, which in effect has encouraged furniture manufactures to expand their use of safer, sustainable and low-toxic materials.
Kaiser Permanente led the movement earlier this year with its pledge to stop buying furniture imbedded with flame retardant chemicals. Its announcement prompted a rebuke from the North America Flame Retardant Alliance (NAFRA) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC). The ACC has expressed its “concern” about the decision, stating that “flame retardants help save lives” and appealing for more discussion on the matter.
So far, however, the pull away from chemical flame retardants seems to be gaining speed, including by companies whose major markets aren’t governed by California regulations. Aiding this movement are the studies that now dispute the assertion that the chemicals actually did save lives. Increased exposure to fumes by first responders who waded into house fires have helped to lay doubt to that claim. So do findings that indicate the toxins are being absorbed by people who use the flame retardant-laden furniture.
Changes spurred by new products
The 16 signers of CEH’s Purchaser’s Pledge go beyond private companies and include several city and county agencies, including some outside the state of California:
- San Francisco Department of Environment
- City of Portland, Oregon
- Multnomah County, Oregon
Private Companies and Nonprofits
- Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts
- Dignity Health
- Hackensack University Medical Center
- HDR Architecture
- Healthy Building Science
- Kaiser Permanente
- Kay Chesterfield
- One Workplace
- Perkins + Will
Plus, the following furniture manufacturers have already removed chemical flame retardants from either all or some of their products:
Manufacturers whose lines are 100 percent CFR-free
- Andreu World
- Arcadia Contract
- David Edward Company
- Global/ GLOBALcare
- Neutral Posture
- OFS Brands
Companies who currently sell some CFR-free furniture
- Herman Miller
- Leland International/Freshcoast
- Martin Brattrud