Flammability Updates

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by Timothy Jacobs

Flammability Updates & News


A Milestone in Flammability Regulations—Your Input Needed ASAP by the State of California

Insofar as California has been been a cooperative research partner in the information gathering and sharing for the new national standard that is under development, the following developments in California’s own state-level rulemaking have importance for everyone in our industry in North America.

As the most flammability compliance-active state government in the US, California has tended to be a bellwether in the realm of compliance; and, added into that, the state still remains one of the top six major economies in the world, despite its current economic woes. With nearly 40 million consumers, it is an ideal testbed for consumer legislation, and often serves as such.
This means that, whether you are a retailer, a manufacturer, or a distributor, you have a stake in what happens in California.

Some Background

Just before last Christmas, the California Bureau of Home Furnishings’ (BHFTI) Manager of Research and Development, John McCormack, sent me the text of a presentation BHFTI gave on October 14-18 in Salt Lake City, at a conference held by the Alliance for the Polyurethanes Industry (API) and the Polyurethane Foam Association (PFA). The presentation concerned the developmental, highly rigorous open-flame mattress and bedding composite standard mandated by California Assembly Bill 603 (the standard itself is also referred to as simply, “AB 603”). (The Technical Bulletin 117 furniture component flammability revision was also a major topic, which we will discuss in the second half of this column.)

As you may recall from past columns under this byline, AB 603 mandates BHFTI to adopt an open-flame residential standard for mattresses and box springs by January 1, 2004. It also requires BHFTI to mandate an open-flame standard for bedclothing such as pillows, mattress pads, bedspreads, duvets, comforters and so on—if such items are shown to contribute to bedding fires (more on this, below).

At the time of the October presentation, BHFTI was considering one of two choices for the burner to be used in the AB 603 open-flame test: the TB 129 single burner; or the NIST dual burner, designed to emulate the “follow-through” pattern of a burning object that has fallen onto—or against—the mattress, bed-clothing, etc.

Anyone who has seen either setup in action will agree that either burner configuration would seem to be adequate to emulate a serious bedding fire source.

Now is the Time to Speak Up

On January 24 of the current year, BHFTI sent out an update letter with the heading, “Update on Assembly Bill 603 Open- Flame Mattress Standard.” (I received the letter via e-mail, both from BHFTI and compliance consultant Gordon Damant—an indication of how highly important the letter is).

To begin, the letter says that, “The California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation … intends to propose the NIST Dual Burner, instead of the Technical Bulletin 129 T-burner, as the ignition source for California’s residential open-flame mattress test standard. Flame impingement times of 70 seconds for the top burner and 50 seconds for the side burner will be used.”

Obviously, this is more rigorous than the currently-required TB 117 and TB 106 testing procedures for futons and mattresses.

The letter continues, “No decision has been made at this time regarding details of the test method, such as the actual pass-fail criteria to be applied, the length of duration of the test and other related issues. These details will be provided when the formal rulemaking begins on or about February 11, 2003.”

Therefore, parties such as licensees and others who have vital interest in the situation will receive a notice by mail (it will also be found on BHFTI’s web site—see information below). The notice will also include the actual test protocol.

Interested parties will then have 45 days to make comments on this proposal (see contact information and meeting venues that follow).

And Bedclothing, Too

Also, combined BHFTI and NIST testing has shown bedclothing to be a significant contributor to mattress fires. In keeping with this finding, the last paragraph of the letter reads:
“A separate rulemaking addressing the flammability of bedclothing (‘top of the bed’) products will open in April, 2003,” thus beginning a similar process for bedcovers, mattress pads, comforters, and so on.

Contact and Meeting Venue Information

Respondents to this situation are encouraged to submit written comments by mail, fax or e-mail , until the close of business (5:00 p.m.) on April 24, 2003 via these channels of communication with BHFTI:

California Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (BHFTI); 3485 Orange Grove Avenue, North Highlands, California 95660; Phone (916) 574-0280; FAX (916) 574-2043; or e-mail www.dca.ca.gov/bhfti.

Or, they can give testimony in person at the hearings to be held at the dates and locations noted below:

Tuesday, April 22, 2003, at 10:00 a.m., at the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Building, 505 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102; or

Thursday, April 24, 2003, at 10:00 a.m., at the South Coast Air Quality Management District Building, 21865 East Copley Drive, Diamond Bar, CA 91765 (in the Los Angeles area).

Certainly, written comments are effective. Even more so, your physical presence, and personal testimony, at either of the above-mentioned venues would be strong proof of the industry’s concern regarding these issues.

Technical Questions?

For technical details on the above, contact:
John McCormack, Manager, Research and Development at (916) 574-2057, or e-mail him at John_McCormack@dca.ca.gov.

Questions regarding the rulemaking in general, can be addressed to Susan Lancara, Program Analyst at (916) 574-0282, or e-mail her at: Susan_Lancara@dca.ca.gov.

Changes to Tech Bulletin 117

I have been told by BHFTI staff that, if AB 603 goes through, it will cover the mattress (and now, bedclothing) aspect of our industry’s particular situation in California. Of course, as we are still viewed in California as dual-use furniture, we will also have to meet the standard of a revised Tech Bulletin 117.

Referring again to the BHFTI October presentation in Salt Lake City, under the heading of “Key Goals for Revised Flammability Standard (Tech Bulletin 117),” we have the following points:

  • “Maintain and improve small/bench-scale component standards”—This allows components suppliers to test component materials before they are shipped to product manufacturers; and
  • “Composite Test”—to predict the performance of finished products in a small open-flame test.

TB 117 Open Flame Changes

Under the rubric, “Summary: Proposed 117 Changes—Open Flame,” the presentation included the following points.

“Improved standard for the flame-resistance of upholstery fabric; Inclusion of dust cover flame test; Horizontal small flame test for natural/synthetic and blended fibers over standard cotton sheeting material; Improved resilient cellular foam test with small seat/back mock-up; Use of tickings/barriers impervious to flame for all loose fillings (shredded foam, plumage, loose fibers, polystyrene beads, etc.); and Composite seat/back mock-up test to confirm furniture system performance (to be required when noncomplying upholstery fabrics are used in furniture with complying filling materials).”

TB 117 and Upholstery Fabrics

The “Proposed TB 117 upholstery fabric open-flame test” would test qualified upholstery fabrics, with an open-flame mockup test of FR fabric over standard FR foam (but if the manufacturer uses a non-FR fabric, a composite test would be needed).

TB 117, Foam and Fiber

The proposed changes to TB 117 regarding poly foam would include a new open flame standard, which would apply to all types of resilient, cellular foam. Under this standard, foam would be tested in a seat/back mockup (the same test frame as the fabric component and composite tests) with a small 20-second gas flame at the seat-back crevice.

The open flame fiber test would rate a melt-through of the fiber sample as a failure. The sample would have to “char in place.”

TB 117 Filling Materials

Some synthetic fiber filling materials that currently pass TB 117 would fail the updated materials component test.

The open-flame test for loose fillings would require all types of loose filling to be encased in ticking materials that can withstand a 20-second exposure to a small gas flame. The upholstery fabric itself can be substituted for ticking, but would itself have to pass the loose-fill cushion test.

TB 117 Time Tables

The rulemaking process on these proposed changes will probably begin in the winter of 2003.

Additionally, if an upholstered furniture manufacturer uses non-FR fabric, the fabric would have to undergo an open-flame composite test. Barrier fabrics can be used, of course, but the filling materials would still need to comply with their specifically applicable TB 117 tests.

The complete TB 117 draft standard can be found on the BHFTI web site at www.dca.ca.gov/bhfti. Informal comments are still being received (see the BHFTI contact information given above). BHFTI also has a Barrier Fabric task force to help resolve related issues and set pass/fail criteria for all tests.

Again, Get In Touch

Get in touch with BHFTI, learn all you can, and let them know your concerns. The staff at BHFTI has always been helpful and welcomes fruitful interchange. See the contact information provided.

Going to the expo in vegas Drop In on the Flammability Workshop

Finally, if you are attending the Futon and Specialty Sleep Show this year, you should take advantage of the following opportunity to network with your peers about flammability. On Tuesday, March 4, from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., there will be a “Breakfast Workshop” featuring speakers from the Futon Association International and the National Cotton Batting Institute to help fill you in on the flammability picture.

More information on this Expo event can be found on the FAI website, www.futon.org.



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