Chemical Insights, an Institute of Underwriters Laboratories, in conjunction with the Sustainable Furnishings Council, released a toolkit designed to help interior designers specify and select residential upholstered furniture that reduces exposure to flame retardant chemicals. The toolkit, based on the recently released UL 118F Guidance Document, is a set of actionable guidelines that follows years of Chemical Insights’ research into human exposure to flame retardant chemicals as well as processes for reducing furniture flammability and residential fire hazards.
As a result of the greater use of synthetic materials and open-floor plans, residential fires in the U.S. burn faster than ever. According to Underwriters Laboratories’ research, residents, who once had 17 minutes to evacuate burning homes 30 years ago, now only have three minutes to get to safety.
Residential upholstered furniture contributes to the intensity of these fires, leading to the addition of flame retardant chemicals in furniture. However, many flame retardants used in residential upholstered furniture have been found by researchers to be carcinogenic or associated with adverse human developmental effects like thyroid disruption, delayed mental and physical development, obesity, advanced puberty, reduced fertility and decreased lung function.
Chemical Insights’ new toolkit covers the role of residential upholstered furniture in fires, health concerns with flame retardants, risk assessment procedures, understanding flammability standards, and the benefits of using a fire barrier, a protective layer designed to prevent or delay ignition of cushioning material. “The use of a fire barrier in furniture simultaneously eliminates the need for flame retardants while providing greater flammability protection for furniture,” noted Dr. Marilyn Black, VP and Senior Technical Advisor with Chemical Insights.
To develop the toolkit, Chemical Insights led research, discussions, and reviews in collaboration with an expert volunteer group, known as the Furniture Flammability and Human Health Taskforce, consisting of public health advocates, environmentalists, designers, fire experts, chemical and furniture material suppliers, and chemical exposure experts. The taskforce helped outline actionable steps that can be used to design and specify residential upholstered furniture with both reduced chemical exposure risks and flammability hazards.
“We are prioritizing furniture flammability education and awareness among interior designers, as they play a key role in specifying and choosing residential upholstered furniture for consumers,” said Dr. Black. “Through a greater understanding of fire and chemical safety considerations involving residential upholstered furniture, interior designers can address their clients’ sustainability, health, safety and welfare goals when designing a space and help protect indoor environments, and consumers, long-term.”
Chemical Insights remains dedicated to researching and informing the public about the presence and effects of residential fires and the use of flame retardants in upholstered furniture and other consumer products.