The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on April 25 hosted a public meeting on fire safety technologies designed to mitigate the impact of furniture fires in the home. The meeting was the latest installment in the commission’s 20-year long effort aimed at establishing a national flammability standard to address upholstered furniture. Although the product safety agency published a proposed standard in March 2008, until now, the rulemaking had been stalled largely due to distractions created by the implementation of the massive Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.
In the interim, CPSC staff had instead been focusing its energy on conducting performance testing as set forth in the proposal. However, unexpected CPSC lab test results, advancements in barrier and other fire safety technologies, as well as mounting concerns about the dangers of chemical flame retardants recently prompted the Commission to re-open the issue. On March 20, it announced it would hold the meeting to learn more about progress on fire barrier technologies and other options to reduce the fire hazard posed by residential furniture. The commission said it would also accept public comments “on the possibility of moving from a regulatory approach that primarily addresses fire deaths caused by smoldering ignition sources using bench scale models to one that relies on the use of fire barriers to address fires started by multiple types of ignition sources (including smoking materials) by limiting fire growth, similar to [the national mattress flammability standard] 16 CFR 1633.” INDA government affairs staff attended the April 25 meeting and has assembled a task force of interested association members to respond to the CPSC’s request for comments.
CPSC staff opened the April 25 meeting with an overview of its recent furniture flammability rulemaking activities, noting that their testing has shown “significant promise for barriers as a means to address the flammability risk posed by upholstered furniture.” In the second presentation, a National Fire Protection Association a representative presented recent statistics on home fires, which, although trending down due to smoke detectors and a decline in cigarette smoking, still result in significant loss of life and property each year.
Three expert panels comprised of industry representatives and researchers presented information on the types of fire barriers available, cost considerations and the application of other fire safety technologies to residential furniture. Many of the speakers emphasized the challenges of creating a standard and corresponding test method for residential furniture due to the vast differences in product shape, size and material.
Representatives from several mattress fire barrier manufacturers including Jones Fiber Products, Milliken & Co. and Ventex detailed how their products were developed to meet the mattress flammability standard (16 CFR 1633) without the use of chemical flame retardants and their potential use in upholstered furniture. An American Home Furnishings Alliance representative, meanwhile, talked about the unique characteristics of furniture as compared to mattresses and the inherent challenge of developing a rule that does not negatively affect a piece of furniture’s aesthetics or comfort.
One panelist from ICL-Industrial Products, a manufacturer of non-halogen flame retardants, urged the commission to adopt an open flame test. Meanwhile, an expert from the Green Science Policy Institute called for a smolder test, pointing to her research that showed a link between open flame tests and more toxic chemicals in the environment.
As already mentioned, the Commission will accept written comments until July 1 addressing available fire safety technologies as well as input on the possibility of shifting its regulatory approach for upholstered furniture flammability. Specifically, it is seeking input on a wide range of topics including whether fire barriers used in mattresses can be used in upholstered furniture, the types of technologies that barrier manufacturers use to achieve improved fire performance (e.g. flame retardant chemicals, specialty fibers/fabrics without FR chemicals, inherently fire resistant materials, etc.); the cost considerations of using fire barriers and more.
Because of the significant opportunities for nonwoven fabrics to be used as safe, effective fire barriers, INDA has formed a Furniture Flammability Task Force to answer the CPSC’s solicitation of input. If you are interested in being a part of this task force as other occasions to weigh in arise, please contact INDA Associate Director of Government Affairs Dawnee Giammittorio at email@example.com.
Miscellaneous Tariff Bill Update
Much to the frustration of numerous manufacturers across the U.S., Congress has still not given a clear sign about when it plans to move the pending Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB). As regular Capitol Comments readers are aware, the MTB provides critical import duty relief on hundreds of essential manufacturing inputs including several categories of viscose rayon staple fibers. Because Congress failed to move a bill during its last session, these benefits lapsed at the end of 2012, resulting in unnecessary costs on U.S. manufacturers and the nonwovens industry.
To further complicate matters, on April 23, Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Rob Portman (R-OH) reintroduced their MTB reform bill, the Temporary Duty Suspension Process Act of 2013 (S.790), which aims to streamline the MTB process. The McCaskill-Portman Bill would allow companies seeking duty suspensions to submit their proposals directly to the International Trade Commission for vetting instead of having to find a member of Congress to first introduce the proposal. While efforts to streamline the MTB process are welcome, this reform measure could divert Congress’ attention to debating a reform bill rather than passing the current MTB comprised of already vetted bills.
INDA will continue working as part of the MTB industry coalition spearheaded by the National Association of Manufacturers to urge Congress to finalize the process as soon as possible. In the meantime, INDA has prepared a template letter for its members to send to their lawmakers to emphasize how important the MTB is to their businesses and to voice support for its expedition passage. For a copy of that letter, please contact INDA Director of Government Affairs Jessica Franken at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NIOSH to Evaluate the Performance of Isolation Gowns
The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) announced April 11 its National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory is initiating a research study to support the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International in developing a standard to establish minimum performance requirements for single-use and reusable isolation gowns for health care workers. ASTM partnered with NIOSH and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in developing the standard to address concerns raised by user groups like the Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses as well as the FDA that isolation gown performance properties and levels of protection are not well-understood or defined. The objective of the study will be to evaluate strength, barrier and other performance properties of single-use and reusable isolation to establish a baseline for conformance to this standard.
Members of INDA’s Healthcare Committee have been informed of the opportunity to submit marketed isolation gown samples to be evaluated in this study. To learn more, visit: http://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/04/11/2013-08461/national-institute-for-occupational-safety-and-health-partnership-opportunity-on-a-research-project