Did you know that the State of California currently has flammability requirements that lead to tent manufacturers including flame retardants in tents? A large volume of these flame retardants contain known carcinogens with many on the California Proposition 65 List from 1986. This is due to an outdated code under California Code of Regulations, Title 19 from 1975 that makes California among only six states to maintain this outdated requirement.
As a camping enthusiast and a legislator striving for an environmentally sustainable California, Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-San Ramon) wanted to solve this problem and introduced AB 267, The No Toxics Tent Act, so that tent manufacturers will not need to add harmful chemicals to children’s play, camping, and backpacking tents with an occupancy of 14 or less that are constructed with fabric made from synthetic fibers. Many of these flame retardant chemistries are listed as toxic according to CalEPA OEHHA’s Proposition 65 list.
“As a mother and a legislator, I believe it is our responsibility to protect the health and safety of our children and our environment. AB 267 is a step in the right direction towards creating a cleaner, healthier California for all outdoor enthusiasts,” said Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife.
As an organization representing companies that strive to build the best products for our consumers and protect human and ecological health, California Outdoor Recreation Partnership is asking Governor Newsom for this outdated/unnecessary requirement to be taken out of law as the lead sponsor on the bill. On September 29, 2018, Governor Brown signed AB 2998 into law, which banned the use of flame retardant chemicals at levels above 1,000 parts per million in upholstered furniture due to the lack of fire safety benefit as well as the toxicity of these chemicals to humans and animals. AB 267 expands the benefits of that ban, promoting a healthier opportunity for California’s outdoor participants and allowing our industry to be more environmentally sustainable.
“Camping and children’s tents don’t need flame retardants,” according to mountaineer and chemist Arlene Blum, who leads the Green Science Policy Institute. “I trust Governor Newsom will sign AB 267 right away so that Californians can enjoy the outdoors in tents that are safe from both fires and toxic chemicals.”
“Reducing this exposure to harmful flame retardants means less chronic risk from the buildup of these materials inside of our bodies,” said Neal Cohen, a consumer product safety expert who is serving as counsel for the Outdoor Industry Association’s Sustainability Working Group on tent flammability. Having worked on this issue for years, Cohen adds that, “The testing and field data show there is no meaningful fire safety benefit to adding these chemicals where modern, low-flammability synthetic-type materials are already used. Since the time these laws were last updated in 1975, peer-reviewed scientific literature has made clear that the real and chronic health risks to consumers come from any unnecessary exposure to these toxic chemicals. The No Toxics Tent Act is an important step towards a more sustainable future.”
Key tent manufacturing companies supporting this bill include The North Face, REI, IKEA, Columbia Sportswear Company, Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, Coleman, NEMO Equipment Company, Kelty, Sierra Designs, Wenzel, Slumberjack, SJK, Black Diamond, Hilleberg The Tentmaker, MSR, Sea to Summit, and Big Agnes. As the leading outdoor industry retailer, REI updated their sustainability standards in February with a list of 24 flame retardants that they have banned from products sold in their stores and online.
“At REI, our goal is to sell the best quality gear while continuously improving the sustainability attributes of our products and manufacturing processes. We do this primarily through our Product Impact Standards, which allow us to work with brand partners to address key impacts associated with outdoor products—including eliminating hazardous flame retardants chemicals that have historically been applied to tents,” said Greg Gausewitz, Senior Manager of Product Sustainability for REI. “This bill paves the way for a future where flame retardants can be altogether avoided for tents that are inherently flame resistant.”
“For Marmot, one of our key philosophies is to produce environmentally conscious products and encourage good stewardship in the outdoors. With sustainability in mind, we have been behind The No Toxics Tent Act before introduction,” explained Kim Suarez, Raw Materials Specialist at Marmot headquartered in Rohnert Park, California. “With REI’s recent sustainability standard updates, it is imperative for us that AB 267 is signed by Governor Newsom in order for us to produce our products without harmful chemicals and sell them in REI stores.”
Flame retardants do not prevent a tent from catching fire. Adding harmful flame retardants to slow the flames is not needed for the modern synthetic tents addressed in this bill. Modern synthetic tents naturally just burn with less heat, speed, and intensity, due to the structure of their fibers. In short, these chemicals are a solution in search of a problem that no longer exists in modern synthetic tents. The number of fires and injuries in countries where flame retardants are not used is no different than it is in California, showing that the chemicals are not necessary and only serve to add unnecessary toxic exposure. These conclusions were borne out via independent flammability testing completed over the summer as part of the ASTM International standards development process. Testing of tents made of synthetic materials at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) laboratory showed that modern synthetic materials simply burn with less heat and intensity than vintage materials from the 1970s. The current Office of State Fire Marshal code is based on the 1975 version of Canvas Products Association International (CPAI)’s standards CPAI-84. Although CPAI updated their name to Advanced Textiles Association (ATA), the original standard in use was designed for cotton canvas tents. The ATA and ASTM International each updated their flammability tent standards in 2020 and 2021. It is time for California to catch up and modernize its outdated requirements.
“Once I learned how harmful the chemicals were in the backpacking tent that I owned, I got rid of it and searched for a tent without flame retardants. AB 267 will allow all Californian campers to experience the outdoors toxic-free and that is important to us”, explained Lexie Gritlefeld, Director of California Outdoor Recreation Partnership. “With nearly 50 years lapsing since the code has been updated and a major change in the materials we use for tent manufacturing, the time is now to update the code.”