California SB1019 Update - Part 1 - Inflammatory Language

In April, I wrote urging people to contact their California senators to oppose California SB1019. It seems that this bill might actually pass. There have been some revisions and amendments which make the bill slightly more useful. However, a closer look at the proposed language of the label shows more work needs to be done.

While the manufacturer’s label requirement is still in place, the signage that was required to be posted by the retailer has been eliminated. The bill will require this label on every piece of upholstered/covered furniture:

"The upholstery materials in this product:

  • _____ contain added flame retardant chemicals
  • _____ contain NO added flame retardant chemicals
  • The State of California determined that the fire safety
  • requirements for this product can be met without adding flame
  • retardant chemicals. The state has identified many flame retardants
  • as being known to, or strongly suspected of, adversely impacting
  • human health or development."

Let’s take a moment to parse the language on this label. The first part is pretty straightforward; the product contains/does not contain flame retardant chemicals. This is informational. We can look another time as to whether or not it’s relevant. 

The next part adds a qualifier that essentially says flame retardant chemicals are not necessary. I’m not convinced this is true. It depends on the combination of polyurethane foam, any additional padding, liner/barrier fabric, and decorative face fabric. If a designer has specific requirements for a certain type of fabric, and they want to have a tactile sensation that precludes the use of barrier fabric, it might not pass a flame test without a flame retardant.

The last sentence is the most alarming. “The state has identified many flame retardants…..” The adjective “many” means ‘numerous’, which is true. There are several flame retardants that are known to impact human health. Most of these have been regulated, some have not. However, there are hundreds of non-toxic flame retardant chemicals, compounds, and blends that can be used for upholstery and furniture purposes. As a noun, “many” means ‘the majority’ and ‘more than half’. 

The problem with the use of the word “many” on this label is the implication that ‘most’ flame retardants impact human health, and if not ‘most’, then ‘nearly most’. So the use of “many” on this label is inflammatory (pun intended). If the state has ‘identified many flame retardants’, why not regulate labeling for those specific flame retardants?

Then we have the question, when are regulation and labeling policies based on ‘strong suspicions’?  If there is ‘strong evidence’ or even ‘leading evidence’ that would maybe be acceptable, but ‘strong suspicions’ is not a basis for sound policy and regulation!

Between the ‘many’ and the ‘strong suspicion’, this bill continues to promote fear and “chemophobia;” it plans to make this fear ever-present in the form of required labels; and essentially admits by its own word usage that it has little basis for such fear.

In future posts, we’ll look at TB-117-2013, which provides ‘improved safety’ by way of diminishing the pass/fail requirement of the test, why this bill is necessary, and the shift of the burden of responsibility to the consumer. Already heated enough?  Here's what you can do stop this legislation and enforce current reluglations.