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From Home Furnishing Business

Grassroots Involvement Required on Flammability Issue

By Home Furnishings Business in Furniture Retailing on March 2007 Following years of delay, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is under intense pressure from congressional critics and various special interest groups to finalize a furniture flammability regulation in 2007. If you are a retailer who has considered this decades-long effort a €œmanufacturer issue,€ you might want to think again.

Last November, the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) opened another front in this long-running controversy by petitioning the U.S. Department of Transportation to classify polyurethane foam and the furniture containing it as €œhazardous material.€ If successful, this effort could result in all trucks carrying upholstered furniture being required to meet burdensome hazmat requirements.

NASFM has also initiated a campaign to have furniture stores classified as hazardous occupancies€”a move that would result in a host of more stringent building and fire code restrictions for any store housing upholstered furniture. The tactic could result in the closure of hundreds of retail locations.

Why the sudden hardball tactics with the nation€™s residential furniture industry?

Over the last three decades, the furniture industry has made great strides in reducing the flammability risks associated with upholstered furniture by modifying materials and construction to better resist ignition by smoldering cigarettes€”the leading source of ignition in fires involving upholstered furniture.

Hot Issue

However, the fire marshals and their allies in the flame-retardant chemical industry are focused instead on small, open-flame ignition sources, such as matches, lighters and candles. And solutions currently under consideration for addressing upholstery fires caused by these sources all involve the use of flame-retardant chemicals.

Unfortunately, the flame-retardant compounds used to treat fabrics and cushioning materials are coming under increased scrutiny as carcinogens and environmental toxins. Although the furniture industry remains committed to pursuing greater fire safety, we believe it is critical that we not impose offsetting chemical risks to our customers and employees.

These flame-retardant compounds have been banned or restricted in Europe, and several states are considering similar measures. In February, a senior member of the California state legislature introduced a bill that would ban the use of halogenated flame retardants in products such as upholstered furniture, mattresses and bedding sold in California. The legislation directs the California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation to amend its current upholstered furniture regulation (TB117) to ensure that complying furniture can be made without the use of suspect chemicals.

Several years ago the Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with Great Lakes Chemical Company (now Chemtura), removed another widely used and effective flame retardant, penta-bromodiphenyl ether, from the marketplace. Staff from the American Home Furnishings Alliance co-chaired a committee that worked with key stakeholders to identify emerging, less-toxic flame retardants to replace the banned chemical. It appears we may now be challenged to do the same for halogenated compounds.

Get Involved

What can the retail community do to help ensure that any product modifications required by a federal or state flammability standard result in products that are both fire safe and environmentally safe?

First, it is imperative that you make your voice heard. Get face-to-face with the people elected to represent you at the federal and state levels. It takes individual voices with a unified message to effectively communicate our industry€™s interests to individual legislators. A unified industry voice is our strongest weapon against some of the onerous regulations currently being debated.

Second, sell only products manufactured in compliance with the voluntary Upholstered Furniture Action Council (UFAC) standard, which the furniture industry developed to make upholstery more resistant to ignition by cigarettes. Do not remove the gold UFAC hangtag, since all of the industry€™s safety information encourages consumers to look for this tag when they are shopping for upholstered furniture.

Today our industry spends a lot of time discussing new channels of retail distribution and new business models for manufacturing and marketing our products. However, let€™s not lose sight of the fact that despite our diversity, we do have some ongoing issues in common. Were it not for the efforts of the organizations that champion those common interests, especially those who have supported the UFAC over the last several decades, all retailers, manufacturers and marketers of upholstered home furnishings products would today face onerous, scientifically unsound regulations. HFB

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