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by Timothy Jacobs
Flammability Updates and News Changes at the US CPSC
Nominated by President Bush in April, and now the subject of Senate confirmation hearings, Republican CPSC Commissioner Mary Sheila Gall is poised to replace CPSC Commissioner Ann Brown as the Chairwoman of that agency.
The hearings are of indefinite duration. The contrasts are interesting. While Gall likes to emphasize that the CPSC is an agency created to encourage industry to self-regulate, Brown has been consistently aggressive in announcing product recalls and proposing regulations. On the other hand, Gall has been known to take action against companies (recently, $1.75 million against Cosco); and the CPSC under Brown has been generally cooperative with our industry.
CPSC Commissioner Thomas Moore (who spoke to our industry at the Orlando 2000 Futon Expo & Specialty Sleep Show) has tended to vote with Brown on CPSC actions and regulations.
Successful Senate confirmation of Commissioner Gall as Chairwoman is expected to bring about a slowdown in the establishment of CPSC regulations. However, with the momentum and support that already exists for a new federal standard, the CPSC will undoubtedly continue working toward establishing that standard.
Hurry Up, Please, It’s Time…
If AB 603 passes into law, it could be a test case for the new national standard. In fact, while AB 603 bases its procedure on the ASTM E-1590 one-burner test, it allows an option whereby BHFTI could adopt requirements based on research being conducted by the National Institute for Standards and Technology. This research is also a major consideration for the national standard.
The NIST research involves a two-burner test, with burners that follow the burn into the mattress, as do flame sources in real-life “tip-over” situations—and also involves associative criteria on the flammability of bedding and boxsprings.
In view of the above, we cannot imagine what would be the case if it were not for industry input in these matters. It is good news, for example, that the CPSC will include the SPSC/National Association of State Fire Marshals research in its considerations toward the new national flammability standard.
Time to Get Ready
It is too early to predict exactly when these various standards and revisions will come into effect. Ballpark estimates say 2003 for the revised TB 117 and January, 2004 is the stated date for AB 603. The new federal standard—within a few years, no doubt.
This is a map of things we have to face. We are moving toward a future in which flammability standards will be more stringent. If your product meets the current standards, the advent of tougher standards will not be as much of a jump for you, as for those who have to play “catch up.” So, get ready, and make sure your testing and documentation is in order. Good habits make for easier transitions.
That’s Not All…
In a California situation that will probably have an effect on the outcome of a new national standard, the Children’s Coalition for Fire-Safe Mattresses, headed by attorney Whitney Davis, has been pushing for the adoption in California of a very rigorous, institutional-level standard for consumer mattresses.
California Assemblyman John Dutra spearheaded the resulting legislative drive with Assembly Bill 1866, in August, 2000. The bill’s progress was slowed by legislator discussion and considerations of input from industry sources, and its first iteration ended with that legislative year.
In February of 2001, the bill was resurrected as AB 603.
Its present draft requires a large open-flame test according to the rubrics of ASTM E-1590 (with modifications), which itself is based on California Technical Bulletin 29, a rigorous institutional standard. Further, the current draft of AB 603 (as amended on May 14, 2001) projects into a possible future, by authorizing the Cal Bureau to set flammability standards for bedding and box springs—though AB 603 does not itself contain such standards.
The draft also incorporates the input of the Sleep Products Safety Council on behalf of the industry, especially in regard to allowing bench-scale testing procedures. Finally, AB 603 includes a self-funding mechanism, which would ensure its fiscal survival by raising licensing fees for businesses.
AB 603 has gained momentum. It has passed from the California Assembly into the Senate, where it was scheduled for a hearing on June 25. If passed by the Senate, AB 603 would then be presented for signing into law, by Democratic Governor Gray Davis.
While the California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation has not had a direct part in the formation of AB 603, BHFTI will be responsible for administering and enforcing the regulation if it becomes law. For its part, BHFTI is working on modifications to California Technical Bulletin 117, the existing California consumer standard for dual-use furniture, which in California includes futons.
The modifications under consideration are meant to make TB 117 easier to understand for the layman, and will require better performance from poly fiber, foam and loose filling materials. The Bureau aims to have a draft standard of the revised TB 117 ready for industry commentary sometime in the October-November 2001 timeframe.
Tim Jacobs is the former Administrative Director of the Futon Association, and has been covering industry regulatory issues for the past ten years.