Flame retardants targeted for SF ban


San Francisco is a step closer in banning the sales of upholstery furniture and children’s products with flame retardant chemicals after a Board of Supervisors committee moved the legislation to the full board with a positive recommendation.

Supervisor Mark Farrell, the sponsor of the proposed legislation, said on Wednesday during the Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, that the chemicals is found not just in furniture, but also in some children’s products such as nursing pillows, high chairs, walkers and bassinets:

“Everyone deserves the right to have homes free of toxic chemicals.”

The legislation would not just apply to brick and mortar stores selling furniture or children’s products, but it would also apply to online sales of those same products.

Under the proposal, stores must make sure furniture and children’s products have a label on the product to show consumers if the product does contain the chemicals, and have a letter from the manufacturer that the products do not have the chemicals in them. Stores may petition the Department of Environment to waive the requirements if there is a proven financial hardship or difficulty in complying with the ordinance.

Farrell said the proposed legislation is about helping educate the public on how bad the flame retardant chemicals are to the public.

Veena Singla, director of research translation at the Program for Reproductive Health and The Environment at UCSF, said exposure to the chemicals can lead to a host of health issues such as cancer.

Singla said the flame retardant chemical is not bound to the materials of the furniture or to children’s products:

“They can migrate into the air and attach to particles in the air and then these particles can settle into our house dust.”

Exposure of breathing in the contaminated air and dust is a way how households can come into contact with the chemicals, said Singla.

A law that went into effect in 2014, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, said furniture manufacturers no longer had to use the flame retardant chemicals, but it did not outright ban the manufactures from using it. It also required manufacturers to place a label on furniture whether the product contained the chemicals or not.

Friday Apaliski, a small business owner and a mother, in favor of the proposed ordinance, said she has spent several years sifting through products to make sure she was purchasing items without the chemicals on them.

Now, Apaliski runs a business to help make homes more environmental friendly, and has come across families who are unsure what to look for when purchasing products:

“It shouldn’t be that the answer is that when you’re in furniture storeroom where you have to dig out the cushion and look at the label that’s unzip and make a big giant scene in the middle of the store.”

Adam Wood, who serves on the board of the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation, said firefighters stricken with cancer because of breathing in the chemicals in its most intense form during a fire, are the canaries of a goal mine, warning households and workplaces that the chemical is unsafe.

Wood said city officials have been supportive of firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer:

“We see our support for this ordinance as a chance repay that debt, to use our hard-earned, tragic experience with these chemicals, share that with you, and help you make the right choice to protect every San Franciscan.”

The full Board of Supervisors will take up the proposed ordinance at its Oct. 17 meeting.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay and covers transportation and City Hall. He has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Jerold is a San Francisco native and frequently takes public transit everywhere he goes. Follow Jerold on Twitter @jerold_chinn. Email tips to

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