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Flame Retardant Manufacturer Sues State to Overturn New Flammability Standard

U.S. News, California, Proposition 65, Non-Sub  

By Jack Schatz

Friday, January 17, 2014 

A leading manufacturer of chemical flame retardants has sued the State of California in an attempt to overturn a new California law that prohibits the use of chemical flame retardants in upholstered furniture sold in the state.

The lawsuit filed in Sacramento Superior Court by specialty chemical manufacturer Chemtura Corp. argues that the new flammability standard TB-117-2013 puts consumers at risk by revising the 40-year old flammability test that upholstered furniture had to pass to be sold in California.

The intent of TB-117-2013, which took effect this year, is to discourage furniture manufacturers from using flame retardant chemicals that have been linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity.  But according to Chemtura the new regulation will risk lives.

“As a member of the industry that develops and supplies products to prevent fire injuries and deaths, we are filing this lawsuit to defend the need for a standard that provides more fire protection, not less; and to require the Bureau to adhere to its statutory obligations in the rulemaking process,” said Ann Noonan, Chemtura’s vice-president of engineered products. “We are seeking a judgment that will throw out the revised standard – a standard that does not provide protection from open-flame ignition sources, as mandated by law. Our hope is that the court will throw out the revised standard. While an open-flame standard is paramount for safety, we believe an ideal result would be that the Bureau will develop a new standard that addresses both smolder and open flame ignition sources, which would improve, rather than weaken, fire safety.

“Sadly, fire safety has taken a wrong turn in California and its impact will be felt by families nationwide unless we can reverse this misguided and unlawful decision,” Noonan added.

However, California’s Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation stands by its new regulations. ‘We are very confident in the science and the law that went into crafting these standards,’ says spokesman Russ Heimerich. He adds that the new regulations address the predominant source of upholstered furniture fire deaths and injuries – smoldering materials – and that it would be rare for a fire to start from an open flame applied directly to foam inside furniture.


Under the old law, couches and other furniture with polyurethane foam had to withstand 12 seconds of a small, open flame, akin to a candle or a match. Furniture makers weren't required to use flame retardants but have used them to ensure they would pass the test.

Since then, independent studies have linked many flame retardants to health problems. Other research has questioned the merits of the test because small, open flames cause fewer fires involving residential furniture than smoldering cigarettes.

After a Chicago Tribune investigation in 2012 showed that chemical companies had distorted research to promote the safety of their products, scientists, regulators and advocates sought to reverse the 1975 California flammability standard.


The new regulation requires furniture upholstery to resist a cigarette-like smolder. Government officials and fire scientists say it will improve consumer safety and eliminate the need for flame retardants. Flame-retardant-free furniture has been trickling onto the market and will be mandatory by the beginning of 2015.

The case referenced by this article is: Chemtura v. Denise Brown Director of the California Department of Consumer Affairs (Sacramento Sup. Ct Case No. 2014-80001731).

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