Lacquer sealers and other floor-finishing products with a flashpoint below 100 degrees F will not be sold or professionally used in Massachusetts beginning next year, under a new Commonwealth law.
The law, signed July 2 by Gov. Deval Patrick, bans the sale or use of any flammable penetrating floor sealer or liquid floor coating with a flashpoint below 100 degrees, if the coating alters a wood surface “for purposes that are directly or indirectly connected with any business or other undertaking intended for profit.” The law takes effect 180 days after signing.
The law, sponsored by State Rep. Martin J. Walsh, fulfills a key recommendation made in September 2005 by the Commonwealth’s Floor Finishing Safety Task Force, led by the Massachusetts Coalition on Safety and Health (MassCOSH).
The task force was formed after two Massachusetts fires killed three wood floor sanders and seriously injured several others in a 10-month period. The contractors were working with lacquer floor sealer with a flash point of 9 F/-13 C.
Those fires were in similar to others, before and since, that have caused injury and/or property damage in Massachusetts, the report said.
“In 2004, the Boston Fire Department stated that, since 1995, Boston had experienced more than 25 fires directly attributed to hardwood floor installation and refinishing, resulting in a property loss value of over 1.5 million dollars,” the report said.
New York City’s experience was similar, the task force reported. “In 2002, the New York City Fire Department responded to increasing number of fires and serious injuries associated with floor finishing operations by regulating flammable and combustible products used for sealing, varnishing, lacquering, [and] otherwise finishing floors.”
The task force also cited a then-recent California fire that “was sparked when a floor finisher scrubbing the floor with steel wool hit a brass electrical plate, igniting the steel wool and in turn the airborne vapors.”
The panel’s top recommendation was that Massachusetts establish a licensing program for floor-refinishing businesses, as proposed in a House bill then under consideration.
The panel noted that a growing number of floor finishers in the Commonwealth—including the three who died—were Vietnamese immigrants who lacked appropriate training opportunities and sufficient Vietnamese-language safety information. A certification bill later became law.
Banning products with flashpoints below 100 degrees was the panel’s No. 2 priority recommendation. The panel noted that New York City had passed a similar law and that many finishing products were available with flashpoints at or above 100 degrees—a threshold it deemed “non-flammable.”
The law defines a floor-finishing product as “any liquid or mixture used for any floor finishing operation, or formulated, marketed or otherwise intended for such use, including any paint, varnish, lacquer, lacquer sealers, stain or wax.”
It defines a lacquer sealer as “a clear or pigmented wood finish, including clear lacquer sanding sealers, formulated with nitrocellulose or synthetic resins to dry by evaporation without chemical reaction.”
The law sets a minimum $500 fine for a first offense and includes the possibility of jail terms.
MassCOSH spokesman Jeff Newton called the new law “a common-sense approach to protecting lives and property in Massachusetts” and said his organization had recorded “countless incidents involving lacquer finishes with a flashpoint below 100 degrees.”
A spokesman for the American Coatings Association, whose members include manufacturers, could not be reached for comment. ACA noted June 29 on its website, however, that the association and its Massachusetts Paint Council had “strongly opposed the bill.” ACA said "the real problem” was not the products but “lack of training for workers in the safe handling and use of such products.”
“Since the release of communications from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the State Fire Marshall informing workers to extinguishing pilot lights and ventilate work areas, there have not been additional fires,” ACA said. “ACA maintains that banning useful floor-finishing products is not the answer; instead, focus should remain on improved training and communication requirements.”