California is rightly celebrated for its legacy of effectively balancing landmark public health and environmental protection initiatives with a vibrant economy, serving as a model for the nation to follow.
Our state can set this gold standard again by banning toxic flame retardants and spurring a nationwide transition toward safer, more sustainable, cost-effective products.
For decades, flame retardants have been needlessly used in everything from furniture to children's products. These toxic chemicals — which have been linked to cancer, thyroid disruption, memory and learning problems, delayed mental and physical development, lower IQ, advanced puberty, hormone disruption and reduced fertility — migrate into household dust that is then ingested and inhaled by humans, pets and wildlife. As a result, they are now ubiquitous in our households and workplaces and have steadily built up in the environment and in human bodies.
Infants and firefighters have especially high exposure risks. Children are particularly vulnerable because their brains and reproductive organs are still developing. They also come into greater contact with household dust than adults due to their frequent floor play and putting their hands to their mouths. As flame retardants burn, the fire and smoke that firefighters are exposed to become more toxic — leading to disproportionately high levels of cancer among those whose job it is to protect us. Worst of all, firefighters and children don’t choose to be poisoned.
In addition to being toxic, flame retardants are ineffective in furniture. According to studies by California’s Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (BEARHFTI), the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Fire Protection Association, these chemicals provide no meaningful fire safety benefit.
Despite a decades-long deceptive, multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign — orchestrated by some of the world’s largest chemical companies — California has won some notable victories. The state updated its flammability standards for furniture, allowing them to be met without the use of flame retardants in 2014. A few years later, we enacted a law requiring all upholstered furniture in the state to include labels informing consumers as to the presence or absence of flame retardant chemicals.
But it’s not enough. Every day, too many Californians continue to be exposed to these toxic chemicals.
The Sustainable Furnishings Council is a coalition of more than 400 businesses concerned about the health of our world — our employees, customers and communities. Californians need to be certain that the products they buy are safe and do not cause harm.
Assembly Bill 2998 would protect the health of consumers, workers, families, firefighters and our natural environment by prohibiting, once and for all, the sale of children’s products, mattresses and upholstered furniture in California that contain toxic flame retardants.
The bill has passed the Assembly floor and two Senate Policy Committees. It now faces a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, Aug. 13, before making it to the Senate Floor.
As business leaders, we understand that a strong, healthy workforce and customers make for a strong, healthy economy. Sick employees and sick consumers are bad for business. We also understand the role of innovation in facilitating the development of quality, safe products for consumers.
Contrary to the assertions of the chemical industry, whose bottom line is the sale of its products, we are confident that AB 2998 will encourage manufacturers to continue innovating effective and safer products. Finally, there are already green and healthy alternatives available on the market. Testing results and furniture labels now indicate that about 75 percent of furniture is being produced without flame retardant chemicals. Moving to 100 percent is within reach.
Buying toxic-free products is a smart decision for businesses and consumers alike. Maine and San Francisco have successfully banned these chemicals. AB 2998 would make businesses safer throughout California while boosting the state’s already booming sustainable and green business sector. We urge the state legislature to pass, and Gov. Brown to sign, this historic bill.
Susan Inglis is executive director of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, and resident expert with the organization she helped found in 2006. She has led SFC to work with industry leaders to establish criteria to gauge the sustainability of furniture products and practices; develop programs for educating all sectors of the industry; and attract hundreds of companies to membership. Inglis is also founder and owner of From the Mountain, a company that imports hand-spun cashmere yarn from Afghanistan, providing safe income for more than 100 women there. Inglis serves on the board of the American Sustainable Business Council and was awarded a 2017 Visionary Leadership award by the NC Business Council. She lives in North Carolina.