A study released Friday by UC Berkeley and other researchers found that California children have seven times more flame-retardant chemicals in their blood than their foreign-born counterparts, once again raising concern about an obscure state law.
The study focused on chemicals called “PBDEs,” flame-fighting substances that saturate the stuffing of millions of couches. The chemicals were banned in California in 2006, but the state still follows “technical bulletin 117,” a law that requires couch makers to pour ample chemicals into every coach.
The research published Friday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives looked at children born in Mexico and compared them to those born in California. The results showed that California children had far higher levels of the flame-fighting chemicals in their blood, likely due to absorption of household dust through the skin, breast milk and hand-to-mouth contact.
Researchers note that PBDE has been linked to a number of reproductive problems, including lower sperm count in men and couples taking a longer time to get pregnant. The chemical is also linked to altered thyroid levels in adults, infants and felines.
As items like couches and other upholstered furniture age, the flame-retardant chemicals tend to migrate into household dust, leading to human ingestion. The chemicals have also been detected in the air and food items such as butter.
And couches, baby products and carpet pads in California tend to have more flame-fighting chemicals than in any other state, due to technical bulletin 117. It’s a regulation enforced by the Department of Consumer Affairs that requires makers of many products that include foam to resist an open flame. Since PBDEs have been banned in California, manufacturers have used different chemicals that have also stoked health concerns.
State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, has introduced a bill, SB 147, this legislative session seeking to give furniture and baby-product makers the right to make chemical-free products that also meet high fire-safety standards.
The bill enjoys the support of a prominent fire-safety expert and several health and environmental groups.
It remains to be seen whether a chemical industry group, Citizens for Fire Safety, will repeat past efforts to fight bills that could remove chemicals from California couches – and likely hurt chemical sales. Such efforts have included running full-page newspaper ads depicting deadly house fires.