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From Home Furnishing Business

AHFA Launches "Toxic Hot Seat" Web Site

The American Home Furnishings Alliance will introduce a new Web site for consumers on Monday, the same day HBO airs a documentary titled “Toxic Hot Seat.”

The film details the influence of chemical companies and the tobacco industry on upholstered furniture flammability standards in the United States and how they gave rise to the widespread use of flame retardants.

The HBO special will air at 9 p.m. Monday evening The documentary is set against the backdrop of the award-winning 2012 Chicago Tribune investigative report, “Playing With Fire.” The five-part series dismantled the entire foundation of California’s flammability standard, known as Technical Bulletin 117, alleging that fraudulent testimony, distorted science and tainted research were employed by tobacco and chemical industry advocates to create the standard and later to derail any legislative efforts to update or revise it.

AHFA arranged for a group of upholstery company executives, including those on the board of the Upholstered Furniture Action Council, to preview the film in High Point on Oct. 18. 

“The documentary follows the Chicago Tribune’s lead, unraveling decades of manipulation that the producers say convinced fire safety officials to back a standard that, in effect, required all upholstered furniture to contain flame retardant chemicals,” said AHFA CEO Andy Counts.

AHFA’s toxic-hot-seat Web site will provide consumers with answers to frequently asked questions about upholstered furniture flammability. It also will detail the industry’s leadership in developing ways to make household furniture more fire-safe without the use of FR chemicals.

Among three individuals spotlighted in “Toxic Hot Seat” is chemist Arlene Blum, who delivered the keynote address at AHFA’s Sustainability Summit in February. Blum has long advocated the removal of flame retardant chemicals from consumer products, beginning with children’s pajamas in the 1970s.

Along with Blum, a cancer-surviving firefighter and a former Maine legislator are featured in the film. The legislator, Hannah Pingree, was among the politicians who lined up to advocate an overhaul of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act following publication of the Tribune series in 2012.  

Absent from the documentary film--as well as from the Tribune series--is the residential furniture industry’s side of the tale, which includes nearly four decades of work to promote a standard designed to make upholstered furniture more fire-safe without the use of flame retardant chemicals.

Formed in 1978, the Upholstered Furniture Action Council developed construction guidelines that set requirements for fabric, decking, barrier filling/padding, deck trim and welt cord that combine to make upholstered furniture resistant to ignition by a smoldering cigarette. In all available data from the 1970s through 2012, the vast majority of home fires that involve furniture were ignited by a cigarette.

Over the past 25 years, as the number of smokers in the United States has declined dramatically, the number of household fires involving upholstered furniture has dropped by more than 85 percent. 

As a result of the Chicago Tribune series last year, California Governor Jerry Brown directed state officials to revise the state’s flammability standard, which since 1975 has required furniture foam to withstand a 12-second open flame test. To pass the test, foam makers added flame retardant chemicals to their product. 

The new California flammability standard, approved last week, will take effect in January 2014. It is based largely on the UFAC construction and materials guideline that AHFA has advocated for nearly 40 years. In addition, AHFA continues its efforts to persuade the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to adopt a national smolder standard based on the UFAC standard.

The “Toxic Hot Seat” documentary was written, produced and directed by James Redford and Kirby Walker.

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