California Gov. Brown seeks new regulations for fire retardants

Gov. Jerry Brown urged state regulators Monday to reduce the prevalence of chemical flame retardants in household furniture, joining a growing number of critics who argue the chemicals are toxic and unnecessary.

"Toxic flame retardants are found in everything from high chairs to couches and a growing body of evidence suggests that these chemicals harm human health and the environment," the Democratic governor said in a prepared statement. "We must find better ways to meet fire safety standards by reducing and eliminating – wherever possible – dangerous chemicals."

The directive follows the defeat last year of legislation that would have let furniture manufacturers avoid using chemical flame retardants in their products by providing an alternative test for meeting state fire prevention standards.

Opponents of the legislation, including the chemical industry-backed Citizens for Fire Safety Institute, said the bill would increase the risk of fire and weaken safety standards they characterize as among the strongest in the United States.

On Monday, the group issued a statement saying its members "welcome any public stakeholder review process of such an important issue."

The author of last year's failed bill, Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said Brown's intervention "definitely shifts the debate."

"He understands the serious risk to public health and the environment by the continued use of these toxic flame retardants," Leno said.

In his action, Brown asked the state Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation to review and recommend changes to a furniture flammability standard Brown said is outdated.

Brown's office said the standards could be changed to reduce the use of toxic flame retardants while also ensuring safety.

The directive follows studies the administration said show health concerns related to exposure to flame retardant chemicals. Critics argue those chemicals are ineffective and can cause cancer and other health problems.

"We are pleased with today's announcement and will remain active as the state proceeds in modernizing this outdated and ineffective standard," Michael Green, executive director of the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health, said in a prepared statement. "The chemical companies that make risky, unnecessary flame retardants have demonstrated that they will use tobacco-industry tactics, distort science and mislead state lawmakers and the public. We will not allow them to pollute this process and continue exposing our families to harmful chemicals."