Flame Retardants History

Flame retardants chemicals have been linked to cancer, learning and developmental disabilities in children and many more health issues. They are found in many household and business products including upholstered furniture, car seats and strollers, nursing pillows, electronics—including toys—and more.

In 1975, California legislators enacted a flammability standard, TB-117, which required all polyurethane foam in furniture and children’s products to be able to resist an open flame for 12 seconds. This standard could only be met by adding large amounts of chemical flame retardants into the foam.

Chemical manufacturing companies successfully convinced California regulators that an open flame standard was needed to ensure fire safety. Because California has a large consumer market, the California regulation became the standard for the whole country.

In recent years, science has demonstrated that chemical flame retardants  do not actually slow the spread of fire in real-life situations.  The initial “open flame standard” was based on faulty science and misrepresentation by chemical companies.  As a result, the state of California changed TB-117 to TB-117 2013, a new standard that no longer requires the use of flame retardants as of January 1, 2015.

However,  the new standard does not ban the use of flame retardants, and chemical companies continue to advocate for their use.

  • In 2014, Massachusetts updated its Fire Code so that sprinklered large assembly spaces (movie theaters, universities, hotels and meeting rooms) could purchase furniture without chemical flame retardants.
  • In 2017, Maine banned the use of all chemical flame retardants in most products.
  • In 2018, California banned chemical flame retardants from children’s products, mattresses, and upholstered furniture.  This law takes effect on January 1, 2020.
  • Also in 2018, the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission advised pregnant women and parents of young children to avoid organohalogen flame retardants, and urged retailers to stop carrying products with these chemicals, but stopped short of a ban

Many of the nation’s largest retailers, such as Ashley Furniture, Crate & Barrel, The Futon Shop, and La-Z-Boy have flame retardant-free furniture now available for purchase.  But many consumers and retailers do not know about the hazards of chemical flame retardants and may continue to purchase products with unsafe chemicals