Film still of activist rally from Toxic Hot Seat documentary film, used with permission.

Film still of activist rally from Toxic Hot Seat documentary film, used with permission.

Beginning in January 2014, non-toxic couches will be widely available for the first time in decades. A tireless campaign waged by firefighters and parents, researchers and scientists, public health and public consumer advocates came to fruition last month when California reversed its outdated, scientifically discredited flammability standard—a standard that places pounds of toxic chemicals in most North American homes.

For 38 years, California has exported to the rest of the continent a flammability standard so feckless, dangerous, and pervasive that it boggles the mind to consider how it was enacted in the first place. Technical Bulletin 117 mandates that all foam furniture sold in the Golden State must withstand an open flame for 12 seconds, a standard furniture manufacturers satisfy by blending flame retardant chemicals into furniture foam. These chemicals are associated with adverse health effects in all living things, particularly in the wee ones.

Bafflingly, TB-117 is 0 percent effective. Fire safety experts know that blending flame retardants into foam doesn’t work. In fact, TB-117 creates deadlier fires, accelerating the progression of flames in real-world fires and making a fire’s smoke more poisonous.

Because California’s market share is so big, TB-117 has become the de facto standard for the rest of the continent. The result has been a billion dollar boondoggle for both the tobacco and chemical industries. Big Tobacco and Big Chem have perpetuated a campaign of chicanery and manipulation that has taken nearly 40 years to unravel.

  • And unravel it has. Late last month, California tossed out TB-117 and approved a common sense, non-toxic alternative based on sound fire science. In anticipation of the new standard, we’ll be ringing in the New Year with an eye toward flame retardant-free furniture.

    An extra reason to celebrate. Photo by Kirsten Jennings, cc.

    An extra reason to celebrate. Photo by Kirsten Jennings, cc.

    Valerie Pacino is an unapologetic couch potato, who first became interested in California’s furniture flammability standard as a Sightline intern and a Master of Public Health student at the University of Washington.

     

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