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Letter To Furninfo.com: New Government Regulation Threatens Health

Furniture World Magazine


A new government imposed regulation will put potentially cancer causing and health damaging chemicals next to your skin and respiratory system for eight hours per day. These chemicals will then end up in landfills causing further risks. This new regulation calls for mattresses, that already meet current federal standards of not igniting due to cigarettes burning all the way down, to meet new open flame ignition tests. While most home fires, started from open flames, are small flames from lighters or matches, the test method requires that the top and side of the mattress and foundation withstand the open flame of a propane torch. To pass this arbitrary test, mattress manufacturers must put a thick chemically saturated fire-barrier fabric totally encasing the outside of the mattress just under the top layer of ticking. This is dangerously close to human skin and respiration and the exposure is one third of people's lives, since we sleep eight hours per day. A common test of human chemical exposure risk is: 1) The amount of chemical. 2) The duration of exposure. For this regulation it takes a lot of chemical, and long duration. This regulation will cost consumers an extra $25 to $200+ for every new mattress purchased. There are 38.9 million new mattresses and foundations sold in the US each year. The fire barrier will make the mattress uncomfortable. These chemical saturated materials are typically stiff, uncomfortable, and possibly itchy. This detrimental effect will be even more noticeable on new technology mattresses like the Supple-Pedic.com that use memory foam to relieve skin pressure (which creates greater comfort and better sleep.) Research has found that fire retardant chemicals cause cancer and health risks in humans. Many FRCs were banned in 1976 and we were told the new PBDEs were safe. Now we find American women have the highest levels of PBDEs fire retardants in their bodies and breast milk in the world, nearing levels that damage learning, memory, and behavior. It's not clear how PBDE enter the body; although, it's possible they are ingested through dust or by other inhalation at home. Now we learn PBDEs are chemically very similar to PCBs banned earlier. PBDEs are scheduled to be banned in 2008 in California In February 2004 we find still another FRC is toxic to humans that was not included in California’s 2008 ban. “California's ban did not include Deca because the science was incomplete and the chemical industry argued that Deca molecules were too big to be absorbed by people's bodies. … "The latest science clearly points to the need for a federal ban of Deca and other toxic flame retardants," said U.S. PIRG's Purvis. "We cannot continue to expose children or adults to harmful chemicals like Deca while we wait for health impacts to develop. Harmful chemicals should not be placed on the market in the first place."(3) According to U.S. law FRCs can not be banned unless they are proven harmful, yet there is no requirement to prove them safe before they are used. (See links to numerous FRC Toxic studies at: www.strobel.com/studies.htm 'It's Scary') While the new chemicals used to make flame barriers for mattresses may be untested, the public health risk is huge after millions and millions of people have long daily exposure for years and years. Anything that does not burn is not natural and the chemicals used cannot be good for people. According to USA Today, “though the USA has the world's toughest flame retardancy standards, 3,000 people die in fires each year. The Chemical Manufacturers Association estimates the number would be up to 960 higher without the [1.2 Billion pounds of] flame-retardant chemicals we now use [annually].” (2) Upholstered furniture, including mattresses, are related to 100 fire deaths each year. When this new standard is enacted nationwide, it may eventually save zero to 25 lives per year. The Chemical Industry and proponents of the regulation argue it will save lives. The question should be how many will they kill? Allergic reactions from sensitive people alone might kill more than 1000. The real issue is not fire safety, but rather the Chemical Industry wanting to sell millions more pounds of fire retardant chemicals. The human chemical exposure risk is far worse than the fire safety benefits. A few years ago there was a convention of state legislators at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. A Chemical Company had big banners on the grounds and was entertaining the state legislators with five different bands and food and drink areas. It was an incredible spread of free food and drinks -- tables overflowing with jumbo shrimp and every delicacy you can imagine. It could not have been more lavish, all to entertain the state legislators at the Chemical Company's investment. This author was there and saw the Chemical-Legislators party firsthand. A good test of legislation is whom it benefits. The Chemical Industry supplying fire retardant chemicals is clearly the largest beneficiary of this legislation. This raises the question, with what we know now about FRC’s was it a mistake passing California Assembly Bill 603 in 2001? Without legislator intervention this new law is scheduled to go into effect in California on January 1, 2005. Many people are opposed to exposing their body to these new chemicals for eight hours every day, and these chemicals getting into the environment. Repeal California Assembly Bill 603 and resulting California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation Technical Bulletin 603 Some big boys in the innerspring mattress industry have come to support this regulation because it will increase their revenue and profit on the same number of unit sales, increase their market share, and put smaller companies out of business. If everyone’s material costs go up, so will their prices and revenue. It will also hurt smaller competition because it will be more difficult to comply with this additional regulation. It will cost $500 to $1,000 to test each model a company manufactures. This will put many small companies out of business. Additionally, innerspring producers saw their market share eroding to specialty sleep products, which have risen to over 20% of the market within the last four years. These products, which include Airbeds, Waterbeds, Latex, and Memory foam, typically use a zippered cover for access to components and will have a more difficult time conforming to the regulations. Memory foam beds most often use a thin non-quilted cover to get the best benefit of this cushioning material. This new regulation will require the addition of a fire barrier that will take away from the comfort of these beds. Leggett & Platt has 93% of the market for innerspring units. It does not matter what brand innerspring mattress you buy, it has a 93% chance of having a Leggett & Platt spring unit. Many foundations (commonly called box springs) sold today are simple wood boxes covered in ticking. With this new regulation Leggett & Platt will sell many more metal wire foundations, and many more metal wire innerspring units. It was the innerspring mattress industry that went to the Federal Consumer Products Safety Commission and asked that this regulation be established nationally for the above reasons. These people are more concerned about their profits than the comfort of beds or the public health. It is hard to argue with fire safety. Proponents of the regulation show sensational video of burning beds and burnt children. They call polyurethane foam solid gasoline. Most formulations of polyurethane foam aren’t this bad, some are even self-extinguishing. Even in the proponent’s sensational video of a burning bed, the foam does not go up in flame in a ‘whoosh’ like gasoline; it takes a full two minutes to develop into a large fire. This regulation may help the bed not develop into a large fire for two and a half to three minutes, a gain of 30 to 60 seconds. This foam is all around us in many products and all carpet pad and everything you sit on from your home, to your car, to the office or work. This foam is in almost every mattress in homes, and made today, and will continue to be in almost all new mattresses even if mattresses are encased in a fire suit. Then they show you prison mattresses as being safer than home mattresses. I know these mattresses and they are not very comfortable. There are other ways of making mattresses relatively fire safe without going to the extremes of this regulation. Putting a thick fire barrier of chemically saturated fibers around a mattress does not make it fire proof; it only delays burning for about 30 seconds. Proponents may argue the regulation may save up to 1,000 lives per year. How is this number possible if all fires claim 3000 lives per year and the billion pounds of FRC’s we now use currently save up to 960 lives per year. I think the number might be closer to 25 or zero. Beds are not the problem in most fires. Again the public health risk of exposure to these chemicals is huge, in the millions of people, our entire population. From simple uncomfortable skin rashes, to respiratory difficulties, to birth defects, to future children with learning disabilities unable to learn, to sterilization of our population, and to of course death of thousands to millions of people. If this regulation is enacted and we get these chemicals in millions of our beds, they will be impossible to get rid of if we later find serious health risks. People keep their beds for twenty years or more often handing them down to children, or guest rooms, or the poor by giving them to charity. Even if the risk is very real people will be skeptical and the damage will continue. The 1.2 billion pounds of FRC’s we use in the US each year, over half the world market, does not make things fire proof; they only delay burning for a few seconds. “Many of these flame retardant products are toxic... The benefits of protecting people from death and property from damage resulting from fires must be weighed against exposure to chemicals that are potentially harmful to human health and the environment.”(1) I recently attended the ISPA (International Sleep Products Association) show where mattress manufacturers go to see the newest fabrics, components, fire barriers, supplies and machinery for mattresses production. I found no natural alternatives. All the fire-barriers I saw to meet this regulation require thick layers of fibers that are heavily chemically saturated. One alternative was mixing Boric Acid with fibers. Do you want to sleep on and breathe acid for eight hours a day even if it is a very mild acid? Many of the alternatives had PBDEs flame retardant chemicals even though California has banned their use starting in 2008. It is still legal now for the next four years. They figure the chemical companies will come up with something new by the deadline just as they have done in the past when they came out with PBDEs to replace the previously banned PCBs. They will surely tell us these new chemicals are safe, just as they have done in the past. Many people want natural in their beds. They want natural cotton and natural rubber latex. They want pure and clean in their beds. Our beds are our most intimate part of our lives, our reprieve from the world. Most people, if given a choice, and the facts about the history of FRC’s and that they have been found toxic repeatedly and banned repeatedly, would not want these chemicals in their beds. Do we really live in a free country? Should people who would not want these chemicals in their beds not be given freedom of choice? Should we force everyone to sleep on uncomfortable innerspring mattresses, which were invented in 1871, now encased in a fire suit, or should we allow people to choose newer technologies of beds that offer greater comfort and back support with zippered covers that can be removed and washed to keep our beds more sanitary? Our society, with our technology, thinks we know a lot. It appears we think we know everything, yet there is much more we do not now know. We legislate the use of chemicals we know nothing about. We assume FRCs are safe because they have not been proven unsafe. The fact is most FRCs have never even been tested for safety. None have ever been tested for prolonged exposure to humans for eight hours per day for twenty-five years or more. If you can concede that there is even the smallest risk of having these chemicals in our beds harming us, then you should agree that we should not legislate their use in mattresses. Even if you think these chemicals or acids are safe, we will find our for sure in the next 25 years, after we test our entire population. Is it worth the risk? While there may be many good and necessary uses for FRCs, perhaps you can agree that putting high concentrations of these chemicals in our beds is going too far. To get an exhaustive list of resources, research and contacts concerning this issue or to contact Mark Strobel, phone: 812-280-6000, fax: 812-282-6528, visit www.Strobel.com www.strobel.com/studies.htm email: health@strobel.com Additional Contact: Dale Read, Specialty Sleep Association Providence, RI 02903 Phone: 401-861-1130 Email: daler@rtppub.com. Dale Read is also Editor of Bedroom Magazine http://www.specialtybed.com/