California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law AB127, which requires a review of flammability standards for all building insulation materials used in the state. A guest commentary published recently in the Contra Costa Times mischaracterized the law and spread misinformation about the use of flame retardants in foam insulation.
AB127 directs the state fire marshal, in consultation with the California Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings, and Thermal Insulation, to reassess -- not to "update," as the authors of the previous commentary claimed -- flammability standards for all building insulation materials.
After this review, the state fire marshal may propose updated flammability standards to the California Building Standards Commission by July 1, 2015.
The commission would then decide independently whether to adopt or reject any proposal from the state fire marshal. Importantly, the law takes special care to emphasize that any proposal must maintain stringent fire safety standards.
The group I represent, the Energy Efficient Foam Coalition (EEFC), believes that the fire marshal's reassessment will validate existing standards.
The law does not change current building codes or flammability standards for building materials. The law also does not ban the use of flame retardants in foam insulation sold in California, nor does it comment on the effectiveness of flame retardants.
Foam insulation is widely used in roof and wall applications, insulated windows and doors, and appliances such as water heaters, refrigerators and freezers, to improve energy efficiency, reduce energy consumption and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Its use in California is one of the reasons Californians use far less energy per capita than the rest of the nation. Flame retardants are added to the insulation to meet important fire safety standards.
Notably, this year the International Code Council twice rejected code change proposals that would have had the effect of lowering fire performance standards by allowing the use of foam insulation that is manufactured without flame retardants.
Research shows that flame retardants play a crucial role in reducing the devastating impact of fires, and provide an important layer of protection to people, homes and buildings.
According to the Materials Flammability Group of the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), products treated with flame retardants significantly slow fire spread when compared to untreated products.
In fact, no fire test studies have been published to date establishing that foam insulation not treated with flame retardants, even when protected by a thermal barrier, provides equivalent performance to flame retardant-treated foam insulation.
Flame retardants currently in use, like all manufactured chemicals, are subject to regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and regulators around the globe.
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and more than a dozen other federal laws and regulations, including consumer product safety laws and product liability laws, provide further oversight of chemicals in commerce.
Foam plastic insulation manufacturers are committed to product safety and effectiveness, and they support research and innovation to continually improve the performance of these materials.
The EEFC looks forward to extensive consultation with the state fire marshal and others to validate the existing flammability standards and explore potential improvements.
Lee Salamone is senior director of the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry, a member of the Energy Efficient Foam Coalition.