Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What Revised California Flammability Standards Mean for Consumers

The saying "What goes California, goes the rest of the Country" definitely applied to the furniture industry and was the main driving force that pushed the industry to include toxic flame retardants in all manufactured upholstered furniture sold across the U.S. 
Beginning January 1, 2014, California changed its flammability requirements. Theoretically, this allows upholstery to be sold in California that does not have flame retardant chemicals added. The new focus will be on testing smoldering sources of flammability in cover fabrics, barrier materials and the covers under the cushions and on top of the base springs.
Furniture Today, an industry newspaper, published a robust article by Cindy W, Hodnett entitled, “Industry Reacts to New California Flammability Standards.” Several people in the furniture space are quoted—including Roy Calcagne, President of the upholstery source, Craft-master Furniture. Calcagne said, "We will comply with the new requirements as mandated by law. I think the fewer chemicals, the better."
Unsurprisingly, there has been substantial push back against the new standards from the American Chemical Council’s North American Flame Retardant Alliance. They put out a statement opposing the revisions stating, “Families in California should have serious concerns that state officials are lowering the fire standards and removing an important layer of fire protection that has benefitted Californians for more than 35 years.”
In direct opposition to their opinion is Dr. Arlene Blum, a major figure in the new documentary “Toxic Hot Seat” (reviewed on our site). The woman who got deadly chemicals out of children’s sleepwear, Blum emphasized, “It astounds me that the chemical companies are still claiming there is no health benefit to removing these chemicals.”
As expected, many customers still want these toxic chemical in their furniture, and many manufactures are willing to meet these customer demands. A prudent consumer needs to be educated and proactive about learning if their furniture purchase contains chemical laden flame resistant foam or fabrics.
We started EcoSelect furniture with the belief that choices on materials, process and products—that reduce the footprint and impact on our environment—don’t have to be expensive. They are competitive while using the finest materials and  classic construction methods that have proven durability and comfort.
Most importantly, is meeting our mission of offering an alternative to furniture that exposes families to toxins.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Toxic Hot Seat

Toxic Hot Seat Ignites Awareness
Toxic Hot Seat, a new documentary directed by James Redford and Kirby Walker, takes an in-depth look at chemical flame retardants. It interweaves the multiple narratives of investigative reporters, scientists, lawmakers and community activists as they fight for transparency around a 1975 law. That piece of legislation, California Technical Bulletin 117 (TB-117), was enacted to eradicate fires in the home caused by cigarettes. What ensued were health hazards Americans were unaware of and years of disinformation promoted by those with big money at stake. At the core of the film stands the investigative work of three Chicago Tribune reporters who put the story on the map with their series, “Playing With Fire.” As they sift through the facts, the circle expands to connect their findings to the other key players in the account.
One of the top takeaways for the general public is the startling information that there are approximately 84,000 chemicals being used commercially in the country. They include home cleaning agents and flame retardants in furniture. Even more problematic is that the majority hasn’t been tested for safety—and are exempt from regulations.
When it was determined that cigarette-induced furniture fires were a primary cause of injuries and deaths from fires in the home, the tobacco industry was pressed to develop a “fire safe cigarette” that could extinguish on its own. However, the decision makers for tobacco asserted that it wasn’t their responsibility to prevent these fires. Rather, they shifted culpability to furniture makers. Bolstered by support from the National Association of State Fire Marshalls (their site has a PDF rebuttal to Chicago Tribune allegations), the initiative to alter the equation fell to the furniture industry. They were pegged as the “fuel,” as opposed to the cigarette manufacturers who were just the “igniters.”
When California put TB-117 into play—mandating fire retardants in furniture—manufacturers adopted the guidelines for all production in order to avoid developing two different product lines.
One of first groups to become aware of a correlation between flame retardants and health was fire fighters. We are introduced to Tony Stefani, a retired fire department captain turned activist. He was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. With other members of the San Francisco Fire Department getting ill, Stefani began exploring. He learned that when flame retardants burn they turn into toxic chemicals; fires in essence become “toxic soups.” Statistics now show that in a demographic of San Francisco women firefighters in the 40 to 50 year old demographic, the rate of breast cancer is six times the national average.
Dr. Arlene Blum, recognized for getting flame retardants with cancer causing chemicals out of children’s sleepwear, is a primary voice elucidating the science behind the chemistry. Several of the flame retardants currently in use are from a group of chemicals that include the banned substances of PCBs and DDT. They enter the body, bioaccumulate, and create havoc with the human system.
PBDEs, which often come out of the flame retardants in cushion foam and then attach to dust particles, are present in over 90 percent of American homes. Women with elevated amounts take twice as long to become pregnant. Children with higher levels at birth have a four to six point deficit in their IQs. PBDEs have been linked to impaired cognitive and behavioral problems, as well as increased rates of birth defects, and are found in amniotic fluid and breast milk. Children have three times more of these chemicals in their bodies than adults.
The American Chemistry Council declined requests from Redford and Walker to be interviewed for the film. However, they have posted a press release on their site charging, “New Docudrama Misleads the Public on Flame Retardants.” Another angle that was underscored by Chicago Tribune journalists Sam Roe and Patricia Callahan was the distortion by the chemical industry of a study conducted by fire protection engineer Vytenis Babrawskas. Babrawskas told the Tribune writers in their article, "[the] Industry has used this study in ways that are improper and untruthful."
It should be noted that the top three companies generating the bulk of flame retardants on the market make over 3 billions pounds of these chemicals annually. This gives rise to “a market worth over $5 billion.
Pingree delivers one of the strongest lines in the movie when she appears in front of Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works at a hearing on July 24, 2012. The witnesses included Stefani, as well as a lawyer and an “advocacy” representative for the chemical industries. Stefani told Boxer and the committee:The final piece of the puzzle was the legislators who began introducing bills in 2004-2005 to push back against the big money interests. California State Senator Mark Leno and Maine representative Hannah Pingree presented numerous bills to ban flame retardants. Their efforts were met with a $6 million press campaign push led by the chemical industry. Maine saw more success than California. Pingree’s actions resulted in a statewide ban against flame retardants. Repeatedly, the bills put forth by Leno were defeated. Then, in May 2012, the Chicago Tribune published the first installment of their exposé. In June of 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown released a statement in which he directed state agencies to revise the flammability standards. Just this month, Brown announced new standards to reduce toxic chemicals in furniture for his state.
     “I don’t trust these companies to tell the truth about their
     chemicals, and I don’t think the American public or you as
     Senators should either.”
The film has a link on their website to connect with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, to mobilize the public through additional information and action campaigns.
Guest blog by Marcia G. Yerman

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

What is Sustainable Furniture?

Six years ago, EcoSelect Furniture was named a finalist in the North American Sustainable Enterprise Awards. These honors are given by the Institute for Sustainable Development, headquartered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. EcoSelect was recognized for our “impressive example of triple bottom line sustainability" and for helping to “push the boundaries of what it means to be sustainable in the furniture industry.”

A primary reason consumers flock to our website is they are searching for chemical-free furniture. The key search term? “Non-flame retardant foam.

”This is due to the increased awareness of the health risks of flame retardants, including cancer. Those in the market to buy furnishings for their homes, have spearheaded a growing call for a product that delivers classic, traditionally crafted and designed, made of high-quality sustainable materials, priced at or below cost of most major brands, following high safety standards. 
Currently we have twelve collections of sofas and chairs in custom color hemp fabrics and leathers. We regularly work with customers to handle specific, and often unique requests. For our loveseats, chairs and sofas, every part of the production process is made by using locally employed, skilled trades and crafts people.
Why is local so important to us?
After being in the furniture industry for forty years, I was totally frustrated when I witnessed giants in our field closing down shop, abandoning the strategies that made the goods coming out of American factories world-renowned. I watched as production was shipped overseas in search of cheaper labor, the least expensive raw materials possible, and facilities required minimal standards for employee safety and environmental responsibility. For these reasons, I began EcoSelect in 2009. Based in South Carolina, our family-owned manufacturer is located in our neighboring state of North Carolina.
I’m proud that we use hardwoods from American certified forests that adhere to strict guidelines for sustainability and conservation. We utilize the most environmentally friendly fabrics available. Our leather tannery is certified “eco-friendly,” and the foam in our cushions is a soy-blend foam that does not have any flame retardant chemicals added.
I have built the EcoSelect brand for a clientele that is looking for quality products that co-exist with concern for our planet. They are classically designed and comfortable. Since our product is locally made, we can compete with comparable high-end furnishings that have a longer distribution channel cost, a much higher carbon footprint built into their selling price, and use toxic chemicals and environmentally damaging materials in their processes. Our philosophy of furniture production is the antithesis of using materials and processes that are detrimental to the environment.

Welcome to Ken’s Eco-Friendly Blog!

In April of 2011, I was certified by the Sustainable Furnishings Council as a “Green Leader.”

What does this mean?
On a purely nuts and bolts level, it means that I completed the Council’s training course and passed all the examinations with flying colors. However, more importantly, it formally marked my commitment to devoting myself as a business owner to becoming a leader in the environmentally conscious furniture trade.
The business model of EcoSelect is dedicated to providing consumers with classic, eco-friendly living room sofas and chairs. Our goal is to design and fabricate home furnishings that are free from synthetic materials and toxic pollutants. Each collection we design and fabricate reflects my four plus decades in the furniture industry and my deep knowledge of both quality and enduring style.
I strongly believe that furniture that is safe for the purchaser’s health and good for the planet should not require an out of reach price tag. That is why our designs are both cost and environmentally conscious.
How do we achieve these goals?
Our fabrics are created from hemp, which uses dramatically less pesticide, herbicide, and water requirements than cotton. For those who seek leather furniture, we use only recycled leather tanning materials. Our manufacturing facility uses recycled steel for springs, soy-blend foam, and certified hardwood lumber for all frames. We also support local suppliers to ensure that we maintain a low-carbon manufacturing footprint.
The bottom line is that we deliver high quality planet-friendly furniture for an economical price.
With the launch of this blog, I will be keeping you apprised of what’s going on in our corner of the Carolinas, as well as other helpful posts about furniture, and how achieving sustainability and practicing chemical abstention benefit us all. We strive to bring innovation and awareness to the ecologically conscious consumer; please connect with EcoSelect via our website, and through our Twitter and Facebook pages. Feel free to reach out to me with any questions and concerns…even topics that you would like me to address on my blog.
Together we can help build a greener world.