They say that spring is a time for rebirth and renewal, which makes it entirely fitting that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), chose the first official day of the season to revive work on its long-delayed upholstered furniture flammability standard. On March 20, the Commission announced it will hold a public meeting at its testing facility in Rockville, MD on April 25, 2013 to gather information about developments in fire barriers and other technologies designed to reduce residential furniture fire hazards with an eye towards rethinking its approach to the proposed standard. The Commission is specifically asking manufacturers of these technologies and other stakeholders to use the meeting to share with CPSC staff information about advancements in fire barriers technologies, commercial furniture fire safety, and the application of other fire safety technologies to upholstered furniture. The Commission will also accept written comments on these and other topics including the possibility of shifting its framework for the proposed upholstered furniture standard until July 1, 2013.
Because nonwoven fire-resistant barriers are so effective, INDA has long been actively involved in CPSC efforts to develop federal flammability standards for mattresses, upholstered furniture, and bedclothes. After years of work, in March 2008, CPSC finally published a proposal for national flammability standards for upholstered furniture. Under the plan, upholstered furniture sold in the U.S. could meet the proposed standard by having either: (1) upholstery cover material that complies with the prescribed smoldering ignition resistance test (Type I furniture); or (2) an interior fire barrier that complies with specified smoldering and open-flame ignition resistance tests (Type II furniture). The Type II designation is for furniture with cover fabrics that fail the Type I test or cannot be treated with flame retardant (FR) chemicals, or for manufacturers who choose not to use FR-treated cover fabrics.
After the release of the proposed standard in 2008, the CPSC took no further action to advance the rulemaking process. However, CPSC staff commenced performance testing as set forth in the proposal and discovered that some of their earlier assumptions about the relative effectiveness of flame-retardants and fire-resistant barriers could be wrong. CPSC chairman Inez Tenenbaum testified on Capitol Hill last July that flammability testing of upholstered chairs showed “no difference in terms of retarding flame” between treated and untreated foam. Meanwhile, in the meeting notice, CPSC states that staff testing has shown “significant promise for barriers as a means to address the flammability risk posed by upholstered furniture.”
At the same time CPSC staff was coming to appreciate the advantages of fire-resistant barriers, chemical flame-retardants were coming under fire in the media and on Capitol Hill. After a series of Chicago Tribune articles highlighted the prevalence of toxic chemicals, particularly flame retardants, present in American homes last May, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) sent a letter to CPSC chairman Tenenbaum prodding her to finish the upholstered furniture rule sooner rather than later. So with flame-retardants recognized as harmful and probably ineffective, and a recognition of the effectiveness of barrier technologies, the time may finally be ripe to finalize a federal flammability standard for furniture.
INDA government affairs staff will attend the April 25 meeting but we encourage companies that make fire barrier technologies to participate as well and note the deadline for registering is April 18, 2013. As mentioned above, the Commission is also soliciting written comments addressing available technologies as well as “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 performance requirements” in its mattress standard (16CFR 1633). Specifically, the Commission 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 (e.g. FR chemicals, specialty fibers/fabrics without FR chemicals, inherently fire resistant materials, etc.) do barrier manufacturers use to achieve improved fire performance; what are the cost considerations and more.
INDA would like to submit written comments but must have direct feedback from its members to be able to do so. If you are an INDA member and are interested in being involved in a task force to help develop this submission, please contact INDA director of government affairs Jessica Franken at email@example.com by no later than May 1, 2013.
To view the CPSC’s March 20 Federal Register notice announcing the meeting and comment request, visit:
Miscellaneous Tariff Bill Update
INDA joined numerous industry representatives and some 55 congressional members and staff at a Feb. 27 National Association of Manufacturers briefing and lobbying day at the U.S. Capitol aimed at spurring action on the still-pending Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB). Companies including BASF and Lasko Products spoke about the importance of the MTB to their companies’ competitiveness while Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Senate Finance Committee Member Robert Casey (D-PA) gave remarks in support of passing the MTB. Unfortunately, the lawmakers were unable to report any significant progress on the measure in the current session of Congress and did not have any insights as to when the bill might move forward.
As regular readers will recall, the MTB is a package of bills that provides temporary duty relief (usually for a period of 2-3 years) on essential manufacturing inputs that are not available in the U.S. Members of Congress sponsor the individual bills, which undergo a thorough vetting process to confirm that they are non-controversial, i.e. no competing domestic production, and that the tariff revenue foregone by the government does not exceed $500,000. With hundreds of tariff suspensions set to lapse at the end of 2012, Congress worked throughout the year and by November, over 2100 individual bills had been vetted and incorporated into an omnibus bill, including five bills providing suspensions and reductions for various categories of viscose rayon staple fibers.
For three decades, Congress routinely passed MTB bills with bipartisan support and little controversy. However, as with so many issues in Washington these days, the MTB has gotten bogged down in partisan squabbles, with some lawmakers in the Senate arguing the duty relief bills are earmarks and insisting upon reforms to MTB consideration process. Meanwhile, the House Ways and Means Committee introduced MTB legislation (H.R. 6727) at the close of the 112th Congress last December, but took no further action due to its preoccupation with the fiscal cliff crisis. Thus duties were re-imposed on hundreds of much needed imports including viscose rayon on Jan. 1 of this year.
Regardless of why the MTB didn’t move last year, as a first step, both chambers will need to propose legislation in the current 113th Congress. We expect that H.R. 6727 will serve as a framework for any future MTB, but as already noted, it’s unclear when and if the MTB will move forward given the large number of pressing issues currently facing Congress.
INDA is continuing its work with the NAM industry coalition to see to it that lawmakers understand the importance of this measure to U.S. manufacturers’ competitiveness, and will keep its members posted about opportunities to get involved in these activities.