Controversial safety trade-off under consideration: burns vs poisoning

According to a report in FairWarning, California is proposing to weaken its fire safety standards by dropping the requirement for the use of flame retardants in U.S. couches and other furniture. The current standard stipulates that foam used in cushions be able to withstand a 12-second exposure to a small, open flame. To meet this standard manufacturers have been adding brominated or chlorinated chemicals to the foam. However, there has been growing concern that these chemicals may have adverse health effects including “reduced IQs, attention problems and other neurological effects in children exposed in the womb or during infancy.” The decision is significant because on the one hand about 95% of couches now contain the retardant thus reducing the chance of serious burns. On the other, the toxic effects, still unproven, are also serious. Governor Brown wants to “ improve fire safety while reducing exposure to toxic chemicals.” Editor: How should safety experts deal with a situation such as this?

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