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Proposed upholstered furniture rule goes on and on.

Few issues have undergone such lengthy research and analysis as has the regulation of upholstered furniture flammability.

CPSC's draft standard, eight years in the making, was presented to the Commissioners in October 2001. It featured a mandatory standard to reduce risk of injury from fires begun by "small open flames," i.e., lighters, candles, and matches.

Both government and industry participants in the process agreed that unsupervised children at play start the vast majority of such fires.

In June of last year, CPSC staff conducted a public meeting to allow all interested parties to submit information relating to the feasibility of the proposed mandatory standard.

Somewhere in all of this activity, the idea that industry might set its own standard has effectively been lost.

Following the 2002 meeting, CPSC's staff set about evaluating all the comments. Now, according to a CPSC document, the staff will produce a new updated upholstered furniture package for the Commission "later this year."

The package will present another revised draft standard.

The current draft standard is the consequence of CPSC's response to a petition by the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM). The Commission considered NASFM's petition, denying it with respect to large open flame-ignited fires, and deferring action on cigarette-ignited fires.

But the Commission did issue an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on the small open flame performance standard. The proposed standard includes tests for seating areas and dust covers, relying heavily on the flame resistance of upholstery fabrics. As a result of work in the laboratory, CPSC staff decided that the use of Flame Retardant (FR) fabrics would be at least part of the answer. The draft standard was presented to the Commission in October 1997. In May 1998, CPSC held a public hearing on the issue.

After a congressionally mandated study by the National Academy of Sciences on the possible toxic effects of flame retardant chemicals, CPSC again revised the standard to allow the use of fire-blocking barrier fabrics (interliners) between the upholstery fabric and filling materials. This revision is included in the current (2001) package.

The thrust of the 2001 document was toward continuation of the rulemaking process with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR). But the staff recommended yet another delay, so that the Commission could conduct yet another public meeting on the issue. The staff recommended denial of an NASFM petition calling for polyurethane foam labeling. A letter of denial was sent to NASFM in January of last year.

The regulatory package produced some concern from industry especially regarding the proposed complex and expensive mandatory test methods. CPSC staffs response was to develop alternative ways to reduce test frequency and sample sizes.

While CPSC has been working on this proposed regulation for more than eight years, two states, California and New York, have been developing their own regulations. California is the only state to have comprehensive regulations in place on the flammability of upholstered furniture for consumer use. That state is updating its standard (Technical Bulletin 117) to make it more stringent. New York will soon have its own regulations addressing cigarette ignition of furniture.

At this time industry feels more threatened by the demands of the California standard than by a possible federal standard. The industrys response has been to work for a less onerous federal standard that would preempt state standards.

CPSC staff says it is also working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop a possible Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) designed to cover FR chemicals that might be used to meet any CPSC flammability standard.

After reviewing industry's comments in the June 2002 meeting, CPSC's staff recommendation, according to a new report, will be basically unchanged.

"The planned refinements to the staffs draft small open flame standard as a result of the June 2002 public meeting comments are relatively minor," (17) the report states.

CPSC's upholstered furniture project has so far produced tons of paperwork, thousands of hours of work and study, and lots of income for industry consultants. Still, the major cause of injuries from upholstered furniture fires, unsupervised fire play by young children, has continued to baffle regulators.

(17) "Upholstered Furniture Flammability: Analysis of Comments from The CPSC' Staff's June 2002 Public Meeting," February 2003, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Bethesda, MD.
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Publication:CPSC Monitor
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2003
Words:713
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