Where the Issue Stands Now
Currently, under the 37-year old Toxic Substances Control Act, chemical manufacturers have close to no responsibility to prove chemicals are safe before being used in commerce, and the government has almost no authority to ban hazardous chemicals. As Janet Nudelman wrote in TheHill, “Under TSCA it’s perfectly legal to use formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, asbestos and other known or suspected carcinogens to make items we use every day, including household cleaners, furniture and plastics.”
In February of 2013, New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg and 22 other senators, all Democrats, called for the EPA to take a closer look at flame retardants and evaluate whether flame retardant chemicals, are harmful. In June, the 23 senators introduced the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. Safer Chemicals does not support the bill in it's current form. Their proposed improvements fit within the framework of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act and, in their words “offer them in the spirit of promoting bi-partisan cooperation to enact a program that protects public health and the environment, and drives innovation.”
State and Local Level:
In the final days of Vermont's busy legislative session this May, the Green Mountain state unanimously passed the nation’s strongest ban on cancer-causing flame retardants. The public health victory included a ban on particularly chlorinated Tris, widely used in children’s products like high chairs, car seats, nursing pillows and changing pads. Recent studies have found Tris in the majority of couches on the market today. These chemicals migrate out of these products into air and dust, and from there enter our bodies, where they are linked to cancer, asthma, lowered IQ, decreased fertility, and other harmful effects.
Several efforts over the past few years in California have also come up empty, as the chemical lobby has spent millions in preventing any changes to the state’s flammability standard. Despite this, grassroots efforts in California have successfully pushed for an updated version of TB 117, the outdated and ineffective flammability standard that furniture manufactures nationwide tend to obey. In June of 2012, Governor Jerry Brown directed a state agency to replace TB 117, with an updated standard that will eliminate the use of unnecessary and toxic chemicals while providing better fire safety. California's updated flammability standard TB117-2013 should be enacted on January 1, 2014 when it would become possible to buy fire safe furniture without harmful flame retardants.
Similarly to Vermont, the state of Maryland passed a landmark bill in the month of May. The bill, although weak compared to Vermont’s, forces stricter regulation flame retardants in furniture.
Flame retardant furniture bans have been proposed in several states where they have yet to be voted on. The state of Alaska introduced Senate Bill 27, which would ban flame retardants from furniture. The New Jersey legislature induced identical bills in the Senate (S 2722) and Assembly (A3915) to ban the manufacture and sale of products containing decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE). Introduced earlier this month by New York State Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, A 6557 would also require residential upholstered furniture sold in New York to comply with an open flame standard.If passed, beginning July 1, 2014, no residential upholstered furniture "that contains chemical flame retardants intentionally added" could be sold in New York.
Harvard, under pressure from students and faculty, is considering eliminating flame retardant dorm furniture from campus. “Harvard is actively seeking to purchase furniture to help meet that goal, while continuing to meet safety requirements included in state law,” Harvard College spokesperson Colin Manning said in a statement that was soon challenged by the chemical industry.