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New Calif rule would get toxins out of our couches

Flammability testing would change, and flame retardants in furniture's foam innards would no longer be needed, experts say.

For four decades, the state of California has been affecting what chemicals are put in our couches.

Their flammability standards required dosings with flame retardants, and since manufacturers by and large don't like to make different products for different states, everyone got the flame retardants.

Nice idea, keeping couches from burning. Except that "exposure to toxic flame retardants has been linked to real and measurable health impacts," writes Sarah Janssen of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental advocacy group.

"Women with higher levels of flame retardants in their blood take longer to get pregnant and have smaller babies. Children exposed in the womb have a lower IQ and attention problems. Other studies have linked flame retardants to male infertility, male birth defects and early puberty in girls. A recent study in animals has linked toxic flame retardants to autism," she wrote.

And there's significant evidence that the chemicals don't even work as intended. (Here's the NRDC site on flame reetardants.)

Yesterday, California released a new draft flammability standard that would not require toxic chemicals.

In the past, flammability was measured through a flame test on foam. But most furniture fires, by far, are caused by someone falling asleep with a lit cigarette, and the couch fabric catches fire, officials say.

So the new standard would institute a smolder test instead.

And whatever changes are required for furniture sold in California would likely be replicated elsewhere.

"With this new standard, families will be able to buy furniture and other products without these harmful chemicals, since smart companies will start making products that are fire-safe and do not use toxic flame retardants," said Michael Green, executive director of the Center for Environmental Health, a California-based nonprofit that had pushed for new standards.

"We welcome this proposal and urge the state to move forward quickly so suppliers can offer safer products as soon as possible," he said.