Publications : 2016

Gloekler L, Shay EC, Schmidt N, Haghighat B, Panko JM, Cowan DM, Paustenbach DJ. Flame-retardants in upholstered furnishings: An assessment of health risk and fire-related deaths in the era of California Technical Bulletin (TB-117). Abstract #2669. Poster at Society of Toxicology Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA, March 13–17, 2016.


California’s upholstered furniture flammability standard, Technical Bulletin 117 (TB-117), was first established in 1975 and updated in 2013. Furniture manufacturers added flame retardant chemicals to polyure-thane foam to comply with TB-117, which originally required filling ma-terials to meet an open flame test. In the 2013 update, focus shifted to cover fabrics and smoldering as the primary ignition source, thereby allowing the standard to be met without the use of flame retardants. Concern has grown for the adverse human health effects of flame retar-dants and whether these health effects outweigh the potential benefits. The purpose of this study was to 1) conduct a human health risk assess-ment of flame retardants currently found in polyurethane foam and 2) evaluate fire incidence and associated injuries and deaths in California. All non-cancer hazard indices calculated were well below the US EPA HI benchmark of 1, and, for one applicable chemical, the cancer risk was well within the US EPA’s acceptable risk range. Total fire injuries and deaths, including fires in which upholstered furniture was the first item ignited, decreased significantly in California residential buildings between 1980 and 2014. The decrease in fire-related deaths in California was more pronounced in comparison to Florida, a state without strin-gent fire regulations. Our analysis showed that there are no health risks concerning flame retardants for which both toxicity criteria and concen-tration data were available, and there are potential quantifiable benefits as demonstrated through the decline in fire injuries and deaths. The lack of publically available flame retardant manufacturing data and the uncertain impact of confounding factors (e.g. smoking prevalence and smoke alarms) make it difficult to conclude or quantify with certainty the impact flame retardants in furniture has had on the decline of fire injuries and deaths.