NASFM, IAFF campaign for upholstery flammability warning labels
In March 1999, the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) submitted petitions to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), asking that it require furniture makers and retailers to provide their customers with the same warning label that furniture producers receive from polyurethane manufacturers. This information, the organizations point out, currently is not being passed along to consumers. Warning labels vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but the core message generally is that polyurethane foam can burn and that should fire occur, serious personal injury or death can result from extreme heat, rapid oxygen depletion, and the production of toxic gases.
“The national fire data we cite seriously understate this hazard because they look only at the item first ignited,” explains Donald P. Bliss, New Hampshire state fire marshal and NASFM spokesperson. “Whether upholstered furniture is the first or fifth item ignited, it turns small fires into large fires very quickly …. When polyurethane foam burns, it rapidly emits large quantities of deadly gases and tremendous heat. A fire involving a single upholstered chair can become deadly so fast that a working smoke detector in an adjoining hallway might not activate in time to alert family members in upstairs bedrooms.”
The same petition was also submitted to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which is now in its sixth year of deciding whether it will require upholstered furniture to meet flammability standards, despite the fact that its own statistics show that more than 55 Americans die each month in fires involving upholstered furniture. (The NASFM had submitted a petition to the CPSC in 1994.)
In the Federal Register (April 6, 1999), the CPSC published a Notice seeking comments on the NASFM petition requesting that the Commission issue a rule under the Flammable Fabrics Act and require that upholstered furniture manufacturers and retailers provide flammability warnings to the public. The commission docketed the correspondence as a petition under provision of the FFA, 25 U.S.C. 1191-1204. Deadline for receipt of comments was June 7, 1999–after press time.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has begun a year-long study for the CPSC on the toxicity of chemicals that may be used to meet a small open flame upholstered furniture ignition standard. A national regulation on furniture flammability will be delayed for at least another year to study an issue the CPSC, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are already thoroughly controlling to ensure the health of consumers and workers.
The NAS study resulted from a compromise reached on the so-called Wicker Amendment introduced in the CPSC Fiscal Year 1999 appropriations bill by Congressman Roger Wicker, who represents a large furniture manufacturing constituency. The amendment might have ended any federal agency`s involvement in furniture flammability standards. However, Wicker`s language was watered down, and he was able to delay CPSC action by only a year or so, explains the NASFM, which ensures that it will be following the NAS study closely.
California is currently the only state that requires furniture to meet flammability standards. Since these standards took effect in that state in the 1970s, fire deaths in incidents in which upholstered furniture was the first item ignited have decreased substantially. Explicit warning labels, Bliss says, “are the every least we can provide for American families until the industry chooses or is forced to spend a few dollars a chair to make its products safer.