In a previous post I commented on the widespread use of flame retardants and referred to the multi-part series in the Chicago Tribune, "Playing with Fire," which chronicled the development and overuse of flame retardant chemicals in the US and blew the lid off of the back room dealings that preceded this current state (do read it, if you haven't!) Flame retardants have been linked to cancer, neurological defects, impaired fertility, and developmental problems, and these chemicals now show up in children and adults worldwide. Young children in the U.S. now have some of the world's highest levels of flame retardants in their blood.
However, the past decade of work by public health officials, green chemists, and journalists at the Tribune and elswhere have galvanized policy makers to action. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has drafted a federal furniture flammability standard that addresses the underlying flame tests and acknowledges the human health implications from the use of flame retardant chemicals, while balancing that with fire safety concerns of citizens. This draft legislation is still under review.
The EPA has been studying several flame retardants for some time under its current Chemical Action Plan. It has focussed its efforts on PBDEs. Those efforts have led to a phase out of manufacture and import of c-decaBDE by Dec 31, 2013, as well as any new chemicals using one of the six PBDE congeners contained in c-pentaBDE or c-octaBDE in its formulation, to be designated for use if a significatn new use (SNUR) of the chemical is shown (for any use which is not ongoing after December 31, 2013).
In addition to these efforts, several U.S. states have legislation that ban the use of PentaBDE and/or OctaBDE FR chemicals in products, including in furniture. The states include: Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington. Brominated flame retardant limits have also been proposed in the following states: Connecticut Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.
More recently, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a new flammability protocol(Assembly bill 127) for building insulation, which is often heavily doused in FR chemicals. This law does not ban any chemicals, but instead alters the necessary tests for flammability that underpin the widespread use of toxic FR chemicals in insulation. This, together with the new test method TB 117-2013 for furniture foam going into effect Jan 2014, will greatly reduce harmful flame retardants in interiors, not just in California but throughout the United States.