Yes, California has a Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation, also known as the Bureau of Home Furnishing, and, by some, the mattress cops.
Its name notwithstanding, the bureau proposes to overhaul an obscure but pernicious 1975 regulation known as Technical Bulletin 117, TB-117 for short. Consumers will benefit.
Acting at Gov. Jerry Brown's direction, the mattress cops proposed to alter TB-117, which requires that couches and some other home furnishing meet a particular type of flammability test in order to be sold in the state.
Because of the change, and starting next year, furniture makers will not be required to load what Brown calls "toxic" flame retardants into the foam that forms couch cushions.
"California women have much higher levels of toxic flame retardants in their breast tissue than women in other states and countries," Brown said in telling the bureau to alter the standard.
The American Chemistry Council, representing flame retardant manufacturers, is trying to undermine the change. To its credit, the Brown administration shows no sign of bending. This one change could be one of the most significant steps he takes to protect the environment.
The issue long had smoldered in the Legislature. Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, pushed legislation to ban the flame retardants, or permit furniture to be sold without the chemicals. He lost in the face of intense lobbying.
Many Democrats, who curry favor with environmentalists, voted against him despite concerns about the impact of the chemicals on health and the environment. Most Republicans voted against him, even though his bills would have lifted an unnecessary regulatory burden from an industry, furniture makers.
The Chicago Tribune brought the issue to the forefront last year by publishing a major investigative series focusing on the chemical industry's lobbying and questionable science behind the chemicals. Much of the paper's reporting focused on California, which developed the standard that prompted furniture makers nationwide to add the chemicals to their products.
The series noted that the advocates of flame retardants worked with the tobacco industry because cigarette makers viewed flame retardants as preferable to creating fire-resistant cigarettes. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission concluded that the chemicals provide no significant fire protection.
The MIND Institute at the University of California at Davis summarized a recent study of one component of common flame retardants by saying the "chemical, quite literally, reduces brain power." There is no good reason to keep these types of flame retardants in furniture, and many reasons to remove them.