California SB1019 Update - Part 3 - An Unnecessary Bill

 Let’s take a look at why California SB1019, mandating furniture labeling, is necessary. The short version? It's not necessary at all.

This bill has been presented as protecting the consumer from toxic and hazardous chemicals, with the implication that all chemicals are toxic.  The discussion lines have been framed as “All chemicals are bad. Having no chemicals is good.” This is not the issue at all, but when it is pointed out that not all chemicals are bad, and the real issue is identifying and not using the harmful chemicals, people react as if their fresh squeezed orange juice will be replaced with radioactive sludge.

There has been a LOT of concern the past few years about chemicals – especially polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) – persisting in the environment - and the effects they have on people, creatures, and plants. Some of these chemicals had been placed on various lists of hazardous substances (such as US EPA, various states’ EPA, REACH, RoHS, and many others), long before this most recent public concern. 

State and federal government agencies (EPA and others) regulate the manufacture, sale, and use of chemicals, and establish benchmarks and guidelines for businesses to follow. California’s senate is creating a new law that would not regulate these chemicals but the “labeling” of the things that MAY contain the chemicals. They are attempting to transfer the burden of responsibility from the government to the consumer, without actually identifying specific flame retardant chemicals as hazardous. In consumer law, this is a step backwards. In the role of government protecting its citizens, this is a step backwards (for the worse). This unjustifiably treats all flame retardant chemicals as hazardous. It’s like saying, “All members of congress are corrupt” because we know that some are: it’s in the public record.

One of the responsibilities of government is to regulate toxic and hazardous chemicals to protect its citizens. SB 1019 does not address the issue of toxic and hazardous flame retardants that may be used. If the State of California wants to protect its citizens from these specific chemicals, they would regulate the chemicals, and ban them as other countries have done. 

California’s Proposition 65 is already in place, and requires manufacturers to place labels on their items stating:

“WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.”

If the specific flame retardant chemicals were added to the Prop. 65 list, as well as EPA TSCA then the consumer protection and labeling would be triggered. 

Proposed SB1019 is not necessary; it is redundant and not as effective as current California laws. With SB1019, we have: the continued failure of government to provide sufficient funding to enforce the regulatory laws that already exist to protect its citizens, the failure of government to add additional chemicals to EPA and other lists to protect its citizens, and government transferring the responsibility of monitoring and protection from the government to citizens by way of ‘consumer labeling’. Under the guise of citizen protection, the California legislature has stretched the envelope of ‘caveat emptor’ to new and far-reaching extremes.

What you can do in California:

  • Contact your local representatives and urge them to vote ‘No’ on SB 1019. Ask them to support adding specific chemicals to Prop 65
  • Contact the California Department of Consumer Affairs to express your concerns about the lack of regulation of these specific chemicals, and that labeling does not provide protection
  • Contact NFPA and NIST to urge them to adopt a flame-based standard for upholstered furniture
  • Contact International Code Council (ICC) to urge them to incorporate the standards that NFPA and NIST develop into the International Fire Code (IFC), which is in use in many states, including California.
  • Contact the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to request that flame retardant chemicals ‘known to the State of California as promoting cancer and other health hazards’ be added to the Prop 65 list.

What you can do outside of California:

  • Contact your state Department of Consumer Affairs to express your concerns about the lack of regulation of these specific chemicals in your state, and express concerns over the labeling practice in California in SB1019. 
  • Contact NFPA and NIST to urge them to adopt a flame-based standard for upholstered furniture
  • Contact ICC to urge them to incorporate the standards that NFPA and NIST will develop into the International Fire Code, which is in use in many states, including California.
  • Contact your state EPA or DEP to request that specific flame retardant chemicals be added to the state’s list of hazardous materials.

Read California SB1019

This post follows up from our previous posts on our opposition to SB1019, a look at the labeling, and how SB 1019 is used to reinforce TB 117-2013.