Furniture Flammability Standards in Boston and Massachusetts
What’s the problem with flame retardants?
Flame retardant chemicals are added to furniture to meet outdated flammability standards, but are not necessary for fire safety. This is a problem because these chemicals can be toxic to human health. Scientists have shown that they migrate out of products and enter our homes and bodies at levels that raise health concerns. There is evidence that these chemicals can cause cancer, disrupt normal hormone functioning related to reproduction and development, and affect brain development, including lowered IQ and problems with motor skills and attention.[i],[ii],[iii],[iv],[v],[vi] Compared to adults, risks are higher for babies and toddlers who spend more time on the floor and ingest contaminants in dust. Flame retardant levels in children are up to 5 times higher than their mothers.[vii] Researchers are also studying risk among firefighters, who are exposed to higher levels of flame retardants and other harmful chemicals when they burn during fires, and experience higher cancer rates than the rest of the population.[viii]
Why are flame retardants in products if they are harmful to health?
A California flammability standard called TB 117 has driven the use of flame retardants in furniture. And, unfortunately, our nation’s chemical safety laws do not require adequate chemical testing for health before they are put on the market. Following a public health outcry on the toxicity of these chemicals and their lack of fire safety benefits, California recently updated one of its furniture flammability standards —TB 117— to a smolder standard called TB 117-2013. This new standard provides fire safety while eliminating the need to use flame retardant chemicals. However, there is a California furniture flammability standard, called TB 133, which is met with even higher levels of toxic flame retardant chemicals.
How does this apply to Massachusetts?
As of January 1, 2015, the Massachusetts Fire Code allows most public spaces to have furniture that meets the new California standard, TB 117-2013. This allows public spaces with sprinklers to have seating without added flame retardants.
How does this apply to Boston?
Boston is regulated separately from the rest of the state. Boston enforces TB 133 in public spaces (Assembly, Educational, Institutional, and some Residential) spaces with no exceptions for automatic sprinklers in buildings. Last year, the Boston Fire Prevention Code stopped requiring furniture in Business spaces to meet TB 133. Boston has an opportunity to harmonize with the Commonwealth and the rest of the nation by allowing furniture in public spaces to be free of harmful flame retardant chemicals.
What can I do?
- Share this information with colleagues in other businesses or organizations
- Convert/build public spaces that I work in or with to flame retardant free furniture
- Support Boston Fire Department to update its Fire Prevention Code to allow TB 117-2013 in public spaces
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[ii] Turyk, M. E.; Persky, V. W.; Imm, P.; Knobeloch, L.; Chatterton, R.; Anderson, H. A.,
Hormone Disruption by PBDEs in Adult Male Sport Fish Consumers. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2008, 116, (12), 1635-1641
[iii] Herbstman, J. B.; Sjödin, A.; Kurzon, M.; Lederman, S. A.; Jones, R. S.; Rauh, V.;
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[iv] Chao, H.-R.; Wang, S.-L.; Lee, W.-J.; Wang, Y.-F.; Päpke, O., Levels of polybrominated
diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in breast milk from central Taiwan and their relation to infant birth
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[v] ECHA Support Document for Identification of tris(2-chloroethyl)phosphate as a
Substance of Very High Concern Beacuse of its CMR Properties; European Chemicals Agency:
[vi] California Environmental Protection Agency Evidence on the Carcinogenicity of tris(1,3-
dichloro-2-propyl)phosphate; Reproductive and Cancer Hazard Assessment Branch, Office of
Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency: 2011.
[vii] Butt CM, Congleton J, Hoffman K, Fang M, Stapleton HM. Metabolites of organophosphate flame retardants and 2-ethylhexyl tetrabromobenzoate in urine from paired mothers and toddlers. Environmental Science & Technology. 2014, 2;48(17)
[viii] Shaw SD, Berger ML, Harris JH, Yun SH, Wu Q, Liao C, Blum A, Stefani A, Kannan K. Persistent organic pollutants including polychlorinated and polybrominated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans in firefighters from Northern California. Chemosphere. 2013. 91(10):1386-94.