LANSING, Mich. (May 23, 2023) — Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) is pleased to announce his legislation, Senate Bill 262, was unanimously voted out of the Senate today to make it legal to sell camping tents without harmful chemical coatings. Michigan’s outdated fire code requires tents sold in the state to conform to a 1974 flame resistance standard that necessitates toxic flame retardants. SB 262 would eliminate the flame-resistant requirement for recreational camping tents and also update the state Fire Prevention Code to the most recent standards for large event and exposition tents.
In 1975, when tents were usually made from waxed or oiled cotton, Michigan adopted the Canvas Products Association International’s (CPAI) flammability standard, CPAI-84. The standard requires tent fabric to be treated with flame-retardant chemicals now known to be toxic and bioaccumulative. Although tent materials and camping equipment have changed drastically, this standard has not been updated since 1974. Michigan is one of just seven states still mandating flame retardants in camping tents.
“Thankfully, tents are made of completely different materials than they were almost 50 years ago, making these requirements counterproductive,” Sen. Irwin said. “We aren’t camping in tents made of heavy, paraffin-soaked canvas anymore. Technology has advanced, but our laws haven’t, so now they are causing more harm than good.”
“This bill modernizes standards and ensures an equivalent level of safety, while protecting recreational campers from unnecessary exposures to hazardous flame retardants,” said Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center. “The bill restores the original intent of this part of the fire code: to focus on safety for gatherings in larger–occupancy tents.”
A Duke University study, which took samples from 11 recreational tents, found that 10 of the tents contained flame-retardant additives that are known carcinogens. This study also took samples from the people using the tents and found that flame-retardant levels were 29 times higher after handling a tent than before, suggesting that the flame-retardant chemicals were leaching from the tents.
While flame retardants slow the spread of direct flame in controlled laboratory conditions, more recent research in realistic scenarios show little benefit. For instance, sofabeds treated with flame retardants burn somewhat more slowly than untreated sofabeds, but they produce far more toxic smoke. Researchers concluded that the chemically treated furniture would be more dangerous to a room’s occupants in an actual fire.
Flame retardant chemicals’ acute and chronic toxicity are enhanced during combustion, posing a particular risk to firefighters. The International Association of FireFighters adopted a resolution in 2014 (Resolution 34) calling for the phaseout of toxic flame-retardant chemicals. A number of states, including California, New York and Massachusetts, have removed requirements to use flame retardants or have even banned their use in many consumer products.
“We know that the requirements don’t make lightweight tents significantly more fire resistant, and we know that the chemicals used to meet the old standard are harmful to people and wildlife,” Sen. Irwin said. “You should be able to go camping in Pure Michigan without being exposed to persistent, bioaccumulative poisons. But if you look at recreational tents sold now in Michigan, many of them come with a warning label stating that they contain materials that can cause cancer. We need to update our laws.”