SACRAMENTO -- Upholstered furniture sold in California is about to get safer, especially for children.

On Jan. 1, new state flammability standards will take effect and all new sofas, love seats and chairs must be fully compliant by the end of 2014, according to the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

The regulations are the first update in 40 years. They toss out a requirement that foam cushions be treated with flame-retardant chemicals that studies have linked to cancer and reproductive defects.

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Now, upholstered furniture will no longer have to meet an open-flame test, and, instead, will be required to withstand the more common threat of catching fire from a smoldering cigarette, space heater or extension cords.

As a result, the furniture will no longer need to be treated with potentially toxic chemicals that could be particularly harmful to children.

"California is curbing toxic chemicals found in everything from high chairs to sofas," said Gov. Jerry Brown, who ordered the regulatory change a year ago. "These new standards will keep the furniture in our homes fire-safe and limit unnecessary exposure to toxic flame retardants."

Scientists and consumer advocates are thrilled with Brown's initiative.

"Flame-retardant chemicals used in furniture have been linked to lower IQ in children, reproductive problems, thyroid disease and other health impacts," said Dr. Sarah Jensen, a reproductive health researcher at UC San Francisco."These new regulations eliminate the need for flame-retardant chemicals in our furniture and yet our furniture is still fire-safe."

Shoppers who want to make sure they're buying the safer furniture should look for a tag that says that the item complies with state Technical Bulletin 117-2013.

The switch to new standards in California is expected to lead to similar changes in other states and countries, said Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the Department of Consumer Affairs.

"We anticipate seeing a huge number of pieces of furniture meeting the new standards in the first six months," he said. "There's consumer demand for furniture that doesn't have chemicals in it, and the manufacturers know that."

Twitter: @MarcLifsher

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