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Massachusetts governor rejects flame-retardant bill opposed by HFA

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker refused to sign a bill restricting the use of 11 flame retardants in some consumer products. The Home Furnishings Association and other business groups opposed the measure.

H 5024 was enacted on New Year’s Day in the final hours of the 2018 legislative session. It was supported by organizations that contend the chemicals contain toxins posing health threats.

In a Jan. 4 letter to Gov. Baker, HFA CEO Sharron Bradley asked him to veto the bill for several reasons, including:

  • “One of the chemicals, antimony trioxide, used in mattresses to meet federal safety standards, has been studied extensively by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission and found to be safe for the consumer who uses the mattress, the worker who assembles it and the environment when the mattress is discarded.
  • “The time given for compliance is grossly inadequate. Use of the listed chemicals would be banned after June 1, and manufacturers would be required to notify retail sellers of the law by April 15.
  • “It puts brick-and-mortar furniture stores at a significant disadvantage compared to online retailers.”

“Our members occupy physical spaces in Massachusetts cities and towns, paying Massachusetts property and sales taxes, employing Massachusetts residents and supporting charitable causes in Massachusetts,” Bradley wrote. “Ensuring their compliance with various laws and regulations is relatively easy. Not so when it comes to out-of-state entities that take orders online and ship products directly to customers in your state. It will be difficult-to-impossible to hold them to the same standards. Certainly, this bill does not provide the resources needed to assure equitable enforcement of its provisions.

“We hope you will find that H 5024 falls far short of achieving its goals and would only cause confusion and harm to good businesses that have contributed so much to the commercial and social life of Massachusetts for generations in many cases,” Bradley added. “Far better legislation could be drafted in the future, and our association stands ready to help.”

In a separate communication to Gov. Baker’s office, the International Sleep Products Association (ISPA) said U.S. mattress producers do not use foam flame-retardant chemicals to meet federal flammability standards.

“Instead, the industry uses fabric and fiber fire barriers to prevent and minimize mattress fires,” ISPA President Ryan Trainor wrote. “These barriers enclose the foam that is inside nearly all mattresses to prevent the foam from being ignited or from growing quickly into a deadly fire.  Antimony trioxide is used to make one of the fibers found in many of these fire barriers.”

ISPA explained that fiber made with antimony trioxide is an effective solution for preventing the spread of mattress fires. It noted that a detailed analysis conducted by the CPSC found that when used in mattress fire barriers, the antimony trioxide remains chemically locked into the fiber without exposing the consumer to the chemical. 

Baker’s deadline for signing the bill was Jan. 11. By declining to act, the governor effected a pocket veto. Because the 2018 legislative session expired, an override of the veto isn’t possible.

Baker said the bill “would make Massachusetts the only state in the United States to ban certain flame retardants in car seats and the non-foam parts of adult mattresses, products already subject to federal flammability requirements.” He added that the compliance deadline would cause disruptions for businesses and consumers.

In any new legislation, Baker urged “a deliberative process involving all stakeholders and an implementation schedule that takes into account the realities of manufacturing and distribution practices.”

Bradley expressed appreciation for Baker’s stance.

“We thank Governor Baker for his thoughtful consideration of this bill and his decision not to sign it into law,” she said. “No one is more concerned about the health and safety of home furnishings consumers than the members of our association, but the Massachusetts legislation would have made bad law for everyone.

“We would prefer federal standards to assure uniform measures to achieve product safety, with decisions made on the basis of sound science and the best business practices.”

The Home Furnishings Association represents more than 1,400 furniture retailers across North America. It supports a national approach to fire safety without the use of toxic flame-retardant chemicals.