Dear Paul Scully, Member of Parliament
Upholsterers and the general public are at risk because of the excessive quantity of fire retardant (FR) chemicals in our furniture, bedding and fabrics.
The 1988 Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations force the UK to soak our products in more FR chemicals than any other country in the world. Yet our fire death statistics are no better than other countries. These FR chemicals leak from foam, from wadding and from top fabric. They can permeate our skin as we lie on our sofas. Many FRs never degrade. They build up in our bodies. They build up in our environment and particularly in our children.
University research on the aftermath of the horrific Grenfell Tower fire has shown that these FR chemicals do not work. They were originally intended to cause a slight delay in the onset of a fire. But they do not achieve this purpose and instead they can cause death by smoke toxicity. The scientific community are protesting, the Cancer charities are protesting, the environmental charities are protesting, but who is listening?
For over ten years these impossible regulations have been under “review” by the government. But no change. So why is the UK furniture and bedding industry not up in arms? These FR chemicals are certainly very costly to UK manufacturers. Is the reason that the 1988 Fire regs give the UK manufacturers of furniture and bedding a real life monopoly over the UK market? An overseas manufacturer would have to create a whole separate “UK only” product range full of FRs to do business here. Do we want economic competitive advantage to beat health and logic?
So who is motivated to speak out about this excessive use of toxic chemicals? Upholsterers who develop endocrine issues? They have no union to coordinate this. Fire fighters inhaling toxic fumes and developing cancer? The general public who have increased issues of child developmental disorders and infertility? Or none of the above because most people have not read or even heard of the Government’s Environmental Audit of Toxic Chemicals in Every Day Life.
But I hope Mr Scully that you can support us. Unless we take action in the next month the next “scope of consultation” document in the latest review of the 1988 Fire Regs will include a “match test” via the back door. The match test sees a live flame applied to fabric lying over a barely-FR-treated-foam. That means the foam is highly flammable. And to comply with this unrealistic test, unconscionable quantities of FR chemicals have to be added. The whole point of the consultation was to remove the match test and replace it with a smoulder test. The match test is scientifically proven not to work. It has been repealed in the US, rejected outright in the EU and its existence in our legislation can lead to 30% of the mass of a foam cushion being just FR chemicals.
If FR chemicals are absolutely necessary in foam to delay the onset of a fire then they need to be:
(a) non toxic
(b) non-bio accumulative
(c) non- persistent
(d) labelled with full chemical transparency
(e) they have to work and be proven to be effective at creating a meaningful delay in the onset of fire that directly leads to lives being saved.
Unless each and every one of the above points are achieved, the FR chemicals do more harm than good and should be eliminated.
We would like to move to a more sustainable future, where furniture and bedding is fire resistant by design rather than by being soaked in FR chemicals. We would like to offer our customers the choice of a more sustainable option whilst still respecting fire safety. We would like to work with materials that are safe for us, safe for our clients and safe for the environment. With the match test in the current Fire regs we simply cannot.
Delyth Fetherston-Dilke (upholsterer)