The test is simple: 12 seconds exposed to a small flame like a cigarette lighter. If the furniture foam doesn’t burn, it passes the test and can be sold. If it burns, it fails and cannot. That’s been California’s trial by fire for furnishings—its “flammability standard”—since 1975, and because California is the biggest furnishings market in the US, manufacturers tend to treat the rule as the North American standard.

It sounds reasonable enough. Unfortunately, though, this obscure rule turns out to cause an inordinate amount of toxic harm to people, the environment, and pets. Worse, it does this harm without providing any benefits. This series examines the science in depth and follows the fight against Big Chem to remove the 12-second rule from the law books.

Hot Seat: The Fight Against Big Chem’s Toxics in Our Homes articles