A variety of flammability standards for furniture exist in Europe. Some standards lead to the use of hazardous flame retardants chemicals without providing a demonstrated fire safety benefit. Flame retardants can increase fire toxicity. A high level of fire safety can be achieved in more effective and less harmful ways.
The benefits from stringent flammability standards have not been proved, but the potential for harm is well documented.
Standards that require resistance to an open flame ignition source, such as the British fire safety standards and the previous TB 117 in California, have led to intensive use of flame retardant chemicals. Open flame tests are still requested in the public and contract market for furniture in many EU Member States. The potential for negative impacts on human health and the environment from flame retardants used to meet these standards was not considered when those standards were enacted.
A high level of fire safety can be achieved in other ways, including:
Use of flame retardants in furniture may even increase production of soot, smoke, toxic gases, and other harmful combustion products in a fire. Toxicity today causes most fire deaths and most injuries. Toxic gases increase risk of cancer.
"Fire Fighters have a higher risk than civilians for a variety of cancers, and we know there is a concern that flame retardants contribute to increasing that risk. Fire safety can be achieved by other means than using potentially harmful chemicals: smoke detectors and sprinklers are amongst the most effective".
Mikael Svanberg, European Fire Fighter Unions Alliance (EFFUA)
"The presence of fire retardants (FR) in furniture products impacts both flammability and fire toxicity. We are unlikely to ever have robust data showing how effective FR are in suppressing ignition. However, through our testing we learnt that furniture products treated with FR chemicals and compliant with the UK flammability regulation result in a higher and longer toxicity of fire. There is no fire safety advantage of adding FR: the minimum reduction in fire growth rate is compensated by an increase in fire toxicity".
Professor Richard Hull, Centre for Fire and Hazards Science, University of Central Lancashire
"In reports of mouse exposure experiments, some fire retardant materials, which could be induced to flame only intermittently, with considerable smoke production, were found to produce atmospheres up to 300 times more irritant than the same polymer in its non-fire retardant state, which burned cleanly".
Anna A. Stec, Centre for Fire and Hazards Science, University of Central Lancashire
"The stringency of non-flammability requirements for consumer products in a domestic environment does not have a statistically noticeable impact on the number of fatalities from fires in dwellings." "In conclusion this study will hopefully be taken as a solid representation of the state-of-play on risk assessment of flame retardants in consumer products in a domestic environment, and thus enable the fire safety community to move their work forward in a target-oriented way".
ARCADIS and EBRC report for the European Commission (2011)
"In the light of the uncertainties regarding both the effectiveness of treating domestic upholstered furniture with flame retardants as a means of reducing household fires in France, and the health and environmental consequences that could result from a widespread use of these substances, it seems preferable to insist on a series of alternative measures, some of which have already been initiated, rather than a general measure leading to the exposure of the entire population to these substances".
French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) (2015)
The State of California has identified “many flame retardant chemicals as being known to, or strongly suspected of, adversely impacting human health or development.”
In the interest of consumer protection, health and safety concerns, the State of California has updated its furniture flammability standard. Introducing TB117 2013 has enabled the sale of furniture without added flame retardant chemicals and has maintained fire safety.
The State of Washington passed a bill banning the use of flame retardant chemicals on the Chemicals of High Concern to Children list (CHCC), including TCEP, TDCPP, HBCD, TBBPA and decaBDE, from use in residential furniture and children’s products, taking effect from 1 July 2016.
The State of Maine prohibited the sale of new upholstered furniture made with material that contain more than 1% of a flame retardant.
In many US states, proposals banning flame retardants in mattresses, furniture and children’s products are also being backed by fire fighters who are concerned with the carcinogenic properties of the proposed chemicals and claim that the substances are not as effective as suggested in slowing the spread of fire.
In the EU. some FR have been regulated through REACH, as DecaBDE in 2017. However, furniture flammability regulations in some EU Member States and demands by public authorities and buyers in the public and contract market in Europe still entail the use of FR chemicals in furniture products.