Recently, while shopping for a new couch, my husband and I were alerted to the fact that all of our current furniture contains flame retardants – compounds that delay the ignition and spread of flames but that also leach chemicals into the dust and air that we breathe in. What was even ruder about this awakening was finding out that these compounds have been linked to the development of cancer. Considering that we, and our young children, spend a lot of time sitting on the couch, we were understandably shocked and dismayed. The reason why household furniture is sprayed with flame retardants in the first place is shoddy and dated, at best. Back in the 70s, when lots of folk were still smoking, tobacco manufacturers used their considerable lobbying skills and urge furniture makers to inject chemicals into their couches in order to prevent couch fires. They did this so they wouldn’t be forced to produce self-extinguishing cigarettes. Fast forward to 2014, when numerous studies, including this investigation featured in the Chicago Tribune, have shown that the addition of flame retardant chemicals to furniture are no more effective at curbing couch fires than those that have so such chemicals added. Hm. Something doesn’t sound right here.
When you realize that each piece of furniture can be filled with up to 2 to 3 pounds of chemicals known to be linked to cancer and fertility problems, it becomes a much more pressing issue.
Thank goodness new regulation in California was passed in 2013 (TB-117)that revised the rule of furniture manufacturers having to inject flame retardants into their products. Now, instead of having to withstand 12 seconds of exposure to an open flame, pieces of furniture now only have to pass a “smolder test,” something they can easily do without the use of flame retardants. The hope is that since manufacturers won’t want to have to produce a special set of furniture just for Californians, this will become the new de facto national standard.
But, as with anything, always carry out due diligence. Just because a piece of furniture claims to be flame-retardant free doesn’t mean that there aren’t other harmful chemical being used instead. Always make sure to talk to the manufacturer if you have any questions or concerns. The only sure way to avoid these harmful chemicals is to purchase from companies who have a proven record of staying away from them. And although these pieces of furniture may often cost significantly more, it may be worth it to know your family is safe.
P.S. If you buy flame-retardant free furniture, make sure you don’t smoke cigarettes on your couches. Or anywhere indoors. Actually, maybe don’t smoke at all.