Toxic couches: In a home near you?

What you don’t know about your couch may not kill you, but it could definitely harm you and your family.

So listen up: A new study by UC Berkeley and Duke University researchers reveals that an astounding 85% of U.S. couches contain toxic flame retardant chemicals. Earlier studies show that these chemicals migrate from the foam in the couches into house dust and into our bodies. Young children are at even more risk of ingesting the toxic dust while they crawl around on the floor and put their hands in their mouths.

In addition, 41% of couches in the study also tested positive for chlorinated trisaminomethane or “tris,” a suspected carcinogen that was removed from use in children’s pajamas way back in the 1970s.

As reported by USA Today:

More manufacturers have been treating polyurethane foam with flame retardants to meet a California flammability standard, known as TB117, that requires furniture sold in the state to withstand a 12-second exposure to a small open flame without igniting. Because of the size of the California market, its standard has become a de facto national one.

The study says flame retardants are linked to hormone disruption, cancer and neurological toxicity in hundreds of animal studies and several human ones. A separate study published earlier this month in Environmental Health Perspectives found that the children of hundreds of mothers who had pentaBDE in their blood during pregnancy had lower birth weight, lower IQ scores, shorter attention spans and less fine motor coordination.

It’s a rare example of where California has bucked its usual role as a national environmental leader, and has instead, with an archaic, decades-old regulation, unwittingly set a national standard for furniture makers that puts all Americans’ health and safety at risk. The law, by the way, doesn’t serve any purpose whatsoever… unless you count creating a huge and lucrative market for the chemical industry, as laid out in devastating detail by the Chicago Tribune earlier this year. Data shows that all these tons of flame retardant chemicals in our couches don’t even save lives from fire.

The good news is that under Governor Jerry Brown’s direction, California is developing a new standard to replace TB 117 that would reduce the use of flame retardants in furniture. As reported by California Watch:

An updated bulletin is being drafted that will require couch upholstery to resist catching fire when it comes into contact with something, such as a cigarette, that is smoldering, according to Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the Department of Consumer Affairs, which includes the state’s furniture safety bureau.

The change would mean that many couches would meet the fire-safety standard as they are currently made, without adding chemicals to foam, Heimerich said.

Heimerich said a draft regulation is expected to be released in December for public comment. The new rule may take effect next summer.

But for now, consumers who want to purchase couches or other furniture that hasn’t been dosed with flame retardants have few options. As pointed out in a piece the East Bay Express, the labels on couches aren’t much help:

A couch with a California TB 117 label indicates the presence of flame retardants, but a couch without such a label doesn’t mean there are no flame retardants, the scientists found. Of couches without a label, 57 percent contained them.

Moreover, furniture manufacturers may not even know if their own products contain flame retardants, because the chemical-treated foam has been purchased from a separate vendor. To make it even more confusing, that vendor has likely purchased the chemicals from another vendor.

The new study makes it even more clear that for the good of our state and the enture country, California must move away from these toxic, unnecessary chemicals in our consumer products and revise our outdated regulations as soon as possible. Sign our petition to Governor Brown today and ask him to stand up to the chemical industry!

Posted on November 28, 2012


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