Flame Retardant Testing and Analysis

Fire Retardant TestingMany types of furniture, building insulation, and consumer products are subject to fire safety regulations and must be tested for flammability. The type of ignition source for a test, typically either an open flame or a smoldering source, largely dictates the approach needed to ensure compliance of a product to a flammability standard. For example, an open flame ignition source often requires the addition of flame retardant chemicals, while a smoldering source may allow the use of barrier technologies. Fires in buildings obviously are a substantial public safety issue, but there also are concerns about the human health and environmental risks associated with a number of flame retardant chemicals as well as many regulations impacting this class of chemicals.

Industries involved with cellular material used as cushions in furniture and consumer products and as building insulation may need to know the exact chemical content of flame retardants in these materials. These industries include:

  • Producers of resilient foam, other cushion materials and cellular insulation
  • Furniture and product manufacturers of furniture and consumer products such as infant and baby products that buy resilient foam for use in their products
  • Manufacturers of products made from postindustrial recycled foam such as carpet cushions

Berkeley Analytical analyzes flexible foams, furniture items, fabrics, infant and baby foam cushion products, spray polyurethane foam, and many other products for their content for a number of halogenated flame retardants. Analyses are conducted using U.S. EPA methods. If you purchase resilient foams for use in your products, we can help you establish a quality control testing program to monitor your supply chain for compliance with regulations such as California Proposition 65 and the new Vermont Tris Flame Retardant Act 85. Contact us to discuss your flame retardant testing needs and to request a quotation.

An overview of the use of halogenated flame retardants in residential furniture and cushioned infant and baby products is provided below in Controversy over Flame Retardant Chemicals. The shifting approach to fire safety of furniture items is discussed in Changes to Flammability Laws. Many manufacturers of upholstered and cushioned products are being impacted by California Proposition 65 and soon will have to adapt to Vermont Tris Flame Retardant Act 85.

Controversy over Flame Retardant Chemicals

Testing and Analysis of Fire RetardantsHalogenated flame retardants continue to be in the news due to a controversy over the health hazards of some of these flame retardant chemicals versus their fire safety benefits. California's flammability standard for resilient foam and other cushion materials used in upholstered residential furniture including many baby and infant products is at the center of the controversy. Standard TB 117, first implemented in 1974, established the nation's most stringent flammability requirements. Although it's a state law, reportedly a substantial amount of the home furniture sold outside of the state also is compliant with California TB 117. In the TB 117 test, both man-made cellular materials and natural furniture cushions are subjected to an open flame ignition source. This test condition led manufacturers to use percent by weight level quantities of highly effective flame retardants in cushions. Until about 2004, the flame retardant of choice for flexible polyurethane foam, the most prevalent material for cushions, was penta-brominated diphenyl ether (pentaBDE). California banned the use of pentaBDE in 2003. Subsequently, its use was banned in eight other states and in the EU. Replacements for pentaBDE in furniture foam and infant/baby product foam include tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (known as TDCPP, TDCP, or simply Tris; CASRN 13674-87-8), tris(1-chloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TCPP; CASRN 13674-84-5), tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate (TCEP; CASRN 115-96-8), and a mixture sold as Firemaster 550. Some of the chlorinated tris compounds and other replacement chemicals also may present significant environmental and human health risks. These concerns are being taken seriously at the national level. In early 2013, the U.S. EPA announced it will begin assessments on 20 flame retardant chemicals. A full EPA risk assessment will be conducted for four flame retardants, including TCEP.

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Changes in Flammability Laws

TB 117 is being administratively changed by the California Department of Consumer Affairs; Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (BEARHFTI). The revised flammability standard TB117-2013, which establishes new performance and labeling requirements, is scheduled to be implemented in mid 2014. Instead of an open flame test, the new standard provides methods for smolder resistance of cover fabrics, barrier materials and resilient filling materials for use in upholstered furniture. As stated by the agency, these changes will provide greater fire safety protection against smoldering materials, the major ignition source, while reducing or eliminating the need by manufacturers to rely on materials treated with flame retardant chemicals. Additionally, 17 categories of infant and baby products with foam cushions will become exempt from the flammability requirements.

There also are flammability standards for other furniture items such as non-residential seating and mattresses and for cellular building insulation. California standard TB 133 is for testing of seating furniture designed for use in public spaces. Such facilities include, but are not limited to, prisons, nursing homes, health care facilities, public auditoriums, theaters, hotels and motels. In the TB 133 test, an entire seating unit or a full scale mockup of a seating unit is subjected to an open flame source. There are two federal standards under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that are associated with mattresses — 16 CFR 1632, Standard for the Flammability (Cigarette Ignition Resistance) of Mattresses and Mattress Pads and 16 CFR 1633, Standard for the Flammability (Open Flame) of Mattress Sets, which went into effect in 2007. The CPSC, like California, is reconsidering its approach to fire safety and held a meeting in April 2013 to discuss current and anticipated progress on fire barrier technology that will reduce the reliance on flame retardant chemicals in mattresses. Conceivably, there also may be changes in flammability standards for building insulation products. Building codes and fire safety regulations have long required the use of flame retardants in polyurethane, polystyrene and other plastic insulation materials. Due to the concern about the use of halogenated flame retardants, a bill, AB 127, was introduced in the California legislature to require BEARHFTI to regulate these materials with the intent of reducing the use of these flame retardants.

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California Proposition 65

The furniture industry also is experiencing the effects of another piece of California legislation. A number of manufacturers that use flexible foam in their furniture and infant/baby products along with the distributors and retailers of these products have received legal notices under California Proposition 65, The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. CA Prop 65 lists chemicals that are known to the State to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Prop 65 is a labeling law administered by the California Department of Justice that requires businesses to notify consumers in California about the presence of listed chemicals in the products they purchase if there are significant risks of cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Two halogenated flame retardants commonly used in polyurethane foam furniture cushions, TDCPP and TCEP, are on the Prop 65 list of carcinogens. TDCPP was originally listed in 2011 and compliance was required beginning in fall 2012. Since then, a number of legal complaints regarding alleged violations of the Prop 65 law with respect to both TDCPP and TCEP have been filed against furniture and product manufacturers and their consumer supply chains.

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Vermont Tris Flame Retardant Act 85

At least five states recently have introduced legislation to restrict the use of TDCPP and TCEP in children's articles and upholstered furniture. In June 2013, Vermont became the first state to enact this legislation. The Vermont Tris Flame Retardant Act 85 prohibits, as of January 1, 2014, retailers and all other persons and organizations from selling, offering to sell, or distributing any children's product or residential upholstered furniture that contains a concentration of TCEP or TDCPP greater than 0.1% by weight in any product component. As of July 1, 2013, a manufacturer of a product that contains TCEP or TDCPP and that is prohibited under this law shall notify persons that sell the manufacturer's product regarding the requirements of the law. Additionally, a manufacturer is prohibited from replacing a restricted flame retardant with a chemical that is classified as known or reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen, reproductive toxin, neurotoxin, or endocrine disruptor. The law also provides for the possibility of adding TCPP to the list of restricted tris flame retardants.

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