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Bill requiring building insulation review headed to California governor's desk

By: Jeremy Carroll

September 13, 2013

A bill forcing state officials to review flammability standards for foam insulation materials passed the California Legislature and is expected to be signed by the state's governor.

Assembly Bill 127 requires the state's fire marshal, in consultation with the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation, to review the flammability standards for building insulation materials. The review includes studying if flammability standards for some insulation materials can only be met with the addition of chemical flame retardants or whether the standards could be met without the chemicals.

The fire marshal is required to propose updated insulation flammability standards by July 1, 2015, according to the bill. Ultimately, the California Building Standards Commission will have the final decision on changing flammability standards.

The bill passed the Assembly 49-26 in May and passed the Senate 29-7 on Sept. 11.

In a statement, the American Chemistry Council's Energy Efficient Foam Coalition said flame retardants in foam insulation serve a vital role in fire safety and protect people and property.

"Foam insulation offers an excellent solution for energy-efficient, high-performance buildings and for California's ambitious energy efficiency goals," the statement said. "It has been used in California homes and buildings for decades, helping solidify California's position as a leader in energy-efficient construction."

The coalition said it looked forward to the study and exploring potential improvements to flammability standards.

The bill followed a 2012 order from Gov. Jerry Brown, which directed the thermal insulation bureau to review and revise the state's furniture flammability standards in an attempt to reduce the use of flame retardants in home furnishings.

"Toxic flame retardants are found in everything from high chairs to couches and a growing body of evidence suggests that these chemicals harm human health and the environment," Brown said in a statement. "We must find better ways to meet fire safety standards by reducing or eliminating — wherever possible — dangerous chemicals."

Given the toxicity concerns surrounding flame retardants, the code should be updated, said Assembly member Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, who authored the bill.

"Current standards, which were developed in the 1970s, force foam insulation manufacturers to rely on flame retardant chemicals," Skinner said in a statement. "AB 127 allows more flexibility in how we ensure fire safety while providing consumers with safer choices."