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Textile groups 'fired up' by proposed bedding bill

Marvin Lazaro -- Home Textiles Today, July 23, 2001

The home textiles industry may soon have another cross to bear should California's State Senate approve Bill 603 to be written into law.

The bill, which was expected to be approved by the Senate last Friday, states that all bedding products manufactured for sale in California, if they are deemed to contribute to mattress fires, must be fire-retardant. The final step will be for Governor Gray Davis to sign the bill into law. Once signed, the law would come into effect on Jan. 1, 2004.

The Home Fashions Product Association and the American Textiles Manufacturing Institute had both voiced their opposition to Bill 603, which had been introduced to the State Assembly of California by Assemblyman John Dutra, 20th District, in February. Both groups, however, had very little time to muster a strong lobby against the bill since the ATMI only found out about it on July 11 and the HFPA less than two weeks ago.

Although both groups said each understood the need to forestall accidents or deaths due to mattress fires, both groups felt the amended language of Bill 603 was ambiguous and left too many doors open to interpretation.

"We are concerned that the bill is not clear as to what bedding products would be subject to provisions that may be implemented under the bill," said Linwood Wright, chairman of the ATMI's Bed and Bath subcommittee. "The bill itself is somewhat undefined."

Originally, Bill 603 had only included mattresses and "specified furniture" in its language. But an amendment on April 16 changed the language to include "bedding products." Another, final amendment submitted on May 14 altered the language to "bedding." It was not clear to Wright or to Robert Leo, Esq., Meeks & Sheppard, the firm which is the legal counsel for the HFPA, as to who made the amendments or the reasons behind them. Lisa Gardiner, a legislative aide for Dutra, said a number of discussions were held, which included the International Sleep Products Association, concerning the amended language.

The National Cotton Council and the Manmade Fiber Association, Wright said, had joined with the ATMI in opposing the bill. The president of the American Down Association, Leo Hollander, said he had sent a notice to members making them aware of Bill 603. Although WestPoint Stevens and Pillowtex Corporation are not part of the ATMI, both mills said they support that organization's opposition.

Wright said although California's Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation would still have to determine whether top-of-bed-items contribute to mattress fires in order to make them subject to the bill, the ATMI's concern arose from the fact that the bill did not address how that determination would be made.

"It doesn't provide significant guidance," Wright said.

According to the California Business and Professions Code, Section 19007, " 'Bedding' means any quilted pad, packing pad, mattress pad, hammock pad, mattress, comforter, quilt, sleeping bag, box spring, studio couch, pillow or cushion made of leather, cloth or any other material, which is or can be stuffed or filled in whole or in part with any concealed substance or material, which can be used by any human being for sleeping or reclining purposes."

But Wright and Leo felt the lack of specificity regarding the word "bedding" in the bill was enough to raise serious questions.

"We have the same problem with the language of the bill that the ATMI does," Leo said.

Since there was virtually no opposition to the bill when it was introduced in the Assembly and virtually none was voiced when the Senate voted on it, there is little doubt that Governor Davis will sign the bill into one of California's newest laws.

Once a product is deemed by the Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation to contribute to mattress fires, the bill states that it must "be resistant to an open flame under a standard specified by the bureau." In order to make a product fire-retardant, various chemicals must be used on it, thereby adding to the opposition from the HFPA and ATMI.

"Requiring bedding products to be flame retardant, would, in most cases, mean treating the product with flame-retardant (FR) chemicals. Consumers would necessarily be directly exposed to these chemicals for extended periods of time on a daily basis," stated a letter sent by the ATMI's executive vp, Carlos Moore, to Dutra a few days before Bill 603 went to the Senate floor. "Little is known about the effects of long-term exposure of FR chemicals to humans."

The HFPA echoed the same concern about human contact with flame-retardant chemicals, especially regarding children.

Manufacturers would have to address several issues if it was found that bedding does contribute to mattress fires, chief among them the added layer of cost involved in making bedding fire-retardant, a cost that would ultimately be passed on to consumers. Also, inventories would have to be separated, with different skus made for California-bound products and the rest of the country which would, in turn, create various logistics issues.

"It's going to be very expensive and cumbersome because it adds another step to the manufacturing process; it adds another cost and vendors would have to decide, 'Do I do it just for my California goods and not anywhere else?' And I can't imagine that being done because how do you keep them separate in your inventories?" said Dale Talbert, vp, sales for Veratex, which is based in Panorama City, CA. He also added that since manufacturers would most likely send their products to a third party for the flame retardation, it would force retailers and manufacturers to consider another critical factor in the manufacturing and shipping process — time.

"It sounds good on paper to have everything so safe, but there certainly is a cost involved, and we're really not sure the consumer is ready for that," Talbert said.

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