California Eases Fire Retardant Restrictions With TB 117-2013

Technical Bulletin 117 gets a revision by California Gov. Jerry Brown and will now bear the tag TB 117-2013. Furniture makers are no longer required to fill in couches with flame retardant additives.

Fire retardants, a class of brominated molecules, termed as PBDE, have come under intense scrutiny from firefighter associations as PBDE degrades into carcinogenic dioxins, under high temperatures caused by fires. It does not end there. The smaller analogs are shown to bind to fatty tissues and bioaccumulate in humans and animals, data which is proved by a myriad of research studies with peer-reviewed publications. Thyroid hormone disruptions, estrogenic and androgenic hormone disruptions, impaired childhood development, are some other major health concerns.

Since the retardants are not chemically bonded to the foam (as in plastics) but injected as an additive, they readily shed into common house dust. If it is essential to fire-proof your home and must have furniture with the fire retardant additives, using a vacuum with a HEPA filter regularly is an effective method for cleaning up these pesky, harmful compounds that sneak into the home. Analytical chemists are continually testing for lower thresholds that would meet fire safety requirements, and many of the brominated analogs have already been phased out.  

Those of you still not satisfied with the TB 117-2013 revision and are looking for a greener option without spending $5000 on a couch; your best bet is to get it reupholstered. You can purchase natural replacement foam from http://www.foamorder.com/.

If you are concerned that it is a terrible thing to dump the old couch to sit in a landfill and emit greenhouse gasses, research is already continuing toward better processing of brominated fire retardants into cleaner and sustainable uses.

Resources you might like:

  1. http://www.greenhomeguide.com/askapro/question/how-do-i-select-safe-natural-fiber-products-for-my-home (provides choices of natural fabrics)
  2.  ”Chemical Recycling of Brominated Flame Retarded Plastics from E-waste for Clean Fuels Production: A Review.” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 61 (2016): 433-50. Elsevier.