california edition | Aug 16, 2018 |
California designers should know this about Prop 65 and furniture chemicals

Two years after new regulations were added to California's Proposition 65, the August 30 deadline is rapidly approaching for furnishing brands that have to comply to labeling requirements—the law mandated business to inform consumers about exposure to chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. The American Home Furnishings Alliance (AHFA) has issued a statement on how to comply.

California designers should know this about Prop 65 and furniture chemicalsConsumers should be alerted about the presence of potentially harmful chemicals before being exposed, so they can make an informed buying decision. —Patricia Bowling, American Home Furnishings Alliance

Prop 65 was established in 1986 as the Safe Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, due to increased public concerns regarding toxic chemicals present in products. Though it doesn’t ban them, the law requires the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to name and maintain a list of chemicals that cause cancer or birth defects, with the purpose of informing consumers of what’s in their products. After being updated annually for the past 32 years, the list now has over 800 chemicals. Regardless of where their products are made, if they sell in California, businesses with more than 10 employees must provide a “clear and reasonable warning” to consumers before they expose them to chemicals that are on the list. Legislation on how to warn consumers had been lax—until now.

In 2015, the OEHHA declared its intent to better define warnings for consumers, and AHFA began to advocate and lobby on behalf of furnishing brands. In August 2016, the OEHHA amended the original Prop 65; because of AHFA’s advocacy, there is a furniture-specific warning. Furnishing companies must use a warning label that names at least one of the chemicals present that are on OEHHA’s list (other companies must name two); OEHHA allows for the warnings to be attached to furniture the same way other labels are. Store signage and messages included in catalogs and on websites are required to inform consumers.

Patricia Bowling, AHFA’s vice president of communications, said that the alliance’s guidance is geared toward compliance executives at manufacturing and importing companies. Designers, she tells Business of Home, should learn the law if they have customers in California. “Under Proposition 65, manufacturers are responsible for identifying chemical content in products and affixing any necessary consumer warnings,” Bowling says. “But retailers and interior designers in businesses with more than 10 employees share in the obligation for conveying these warnings to California consumers.”

“The idea behind Prop 65,” she continues, “is that California consumers should be alerted about the presence of potentially harmful chemicals before being exposed, so they can make an informed buying decision. … The state now has nearly 900 chemicals listed as potential carcinogens or reproductive toxicants. It is cost-prohibitive for a company to test all of their products for all of those chemicals. The new ‘clear and reasonable’ warning requirements allow the manufacturer to identify one chemical, such as formaldehyde, which they know to be present, and name that one chemical in their warning.” (Formaldehyde is often chosen by manufacturers because consumers are typically aware of how it is subjected to state and federal emission limits.)

AHFA’s compliance summary, which is available only to its members, names the 20 most common OEHHA-listed chemicals that are likely to end up in residential furniture. The summary, produced this past May, also contains the testing results and analysis of exposure assessments, which are outside studies paid for by the organization. AHFA has also produced a white paper to explain warning responsibilities of furnishing suppliers and retailers, but it is members-only (becoming an AHFA member, at a minimum, costs between $990 and $36,135—depending on the annual sales of the company). The organization’s website contains a toolbox for Prop 65 that is available to anyone on the site, and it includes an issue overview, compliance tools, presentations and webinars, assistance for consumers, and links to more resources.

Last year, AHFA gave three webinars that discussed the new provisions for Prop 65; earlier this year, it hosted a workshop to explain the changes more in-depth.

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