At What Cost Fire Safety?

Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle / SF

What happens when government gets it wrong? Well, in this case, the California legislature finally has seen the error of its 1975 law that required furniture foam to endure an open flame for up to 12 seconds without catching fire. It turns out that the law, intended to keep Californians safe, has had some pretty nasty side-effects.

The chemicals used to treat the foam to keep it “safe” from catching fire, it turns out, make the foam anything but safe for the people that lounge on the couch or are required to put out fires. Substances used to make the foam fire-resistant have been known to cause cancer, DNA changes, lowered IQ, hormone disruption, decreased fertility and hyperactivity. And, ulitmately, even firefighters have voiced their concern over the use of the chemicals. Firefighters have been among the most active voices against the 1975 law, stating that the benefits of making the foam flame-resistant are far outweighed by the health risks associated with the toxic smoke from house fires.

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