Trade does slow burn over flame rules

Carole Sloan, November 10, 2003

New York — The pace of movement towards governmental regulation concerning flammability of home furnishings is accelerating.

By mid-December, the California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (Bureau) plans to issue the proposed Technical Bulletin 604, which will be followed by a public hearing and a 45-day public comment period.

The regulations will include specific flammability standards for filled top of the bed products including comforters, pillows, and mattress pads.

Prior to the issuance of the draft standard, there will be two informational meetings, on November 18 in San Francisco, and on November 20 in Los Angeles. The time frame, according to Robert Leo, counsel for the Home Fashion Product Association, "leaves HFPA members a short amount of time to weigh the effects of the Bureau's specific flammability test on their products and sales in California."

Leo added "what will be left unanswered will be the toxicity question. California says it is not charged with the question of toxicity. It is charged with getting the regulations in place."

It will only be after the regulations are in place, that the issue of toxicity will be raised, Leo continued. And it might well be that the chemicals that might be used already have been outlawed in the state, he added.

Beyond the toxicity issue, Leo explained, will be the increased cost to consumers and a reduction in choices. "It's a well-intentioned but not a well thought out program."

At the same time, Leo noted that Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-SC) introduced the "American Home Fire Safety Act" on October 30, which mandates the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to regulate and adopt flammability standards on upholstered furniture, mattresses, "bed clothing" and candles, within 90 days of the passage of the act.

The CPSC is directed to adopt standards that "are substantially the same" as the ones adopted in the California TB 117 and TB 603 or in draft TB 604, as well as the ASTM provisional standard for candles.

Leo noted that the TB 604 October 22, 2003 draft still has the testing provision underway.

The Federal legislation has a line regarding toxicity, Leo noted, "but after the fact."

Looking at the California proposal from the perspective of upholstered furniture, "there is no provision including the use of a barrier fabric," said Richard Taffet, counsel for the Decorative Fabrics Association and the Coalition of Converters of Decorative Fabrics. "We provided information on this issue," Taffet noted.

The Hollings bill is now in committee, Taffet explained, and "we are confident we will have the opportunity to make these points." The CPSC, he said, has issued its Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that includes both open flame and cigarette specifications.

The industry can respond to the formal notice by December 22, Taffet said. "The CPSC approach is one preferred by the industry because of the barrier cloth issue and because it will be a Federal regulation, eliminating the potential of many individual states' rules."

The California new draft on top of the bed "is a good step if it focuses on the fill material, versus the fabrics, using a designated standard casing for the test," Taffet added.

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