The California Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation might just be the most important state agency that no one's ever heard of. It is about to revamp the state's flammability standards for furniture, a mundane-sounding subject that will have significant ramifications not just in California but nationally as well.
After years of legislative inaction — and years of studies linking chemical flame retardants to a wide variety of health problems — Gov. Jerry Brown is calling for an administrative overhaul of a 37-year-old fire safety rule that was developed with limited information about the dangers of many flame retardants, or about their lack of effectiveness. A recent investigative series by the Chicago Tribune reported on a 2009 study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that found the chemicals offer no meaningful protection.
But the makers of these chemicals — supported by the tobacco industry, which prefers the existing flame-retardant standards to new regulations requiring more fire-resistant cigarettes — have mounted a successful all-out campaign over the years. Last year, California legislation that would have allowed furniture makers to use an alternative test for meeting state fire standards was defeated. The campaign against it included misleading testimony and, at times, downright falsehoods, the Tribune reported, including an anecdote about a fatally burned baby who never existed.