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Most American Couches Contain Toxic Flame Retardants

November 30, 2012 — Researchers have found that the majority of couches in the United States contain massive amounts of toxic flame retardant chemicals, including several chemicals that were banned after being linked to hormone disruptions, cancer, and neurological disorders. The chemicals can pass through upholstery, contaminate household dust, and accidentally be ingested — especially by toddlers crawling on the ground. “The levels are enormous … People have a pound of these toxic chemicals in their couches,” said the co-author of the study, Arlene Blu.

The researchers focused their study on California households, which past studies have linked to high levels of toxic flame retardants. Of the 102 couches surveyed, 41% contained a likely carcinogen called chlorinated Tris, which was banned from children’s sleepwear in 1977. Another 17% of couches contained the chemical pentaBDE, which was banned in California in 2006.

The researchers found that 94% of couches purchased after 2005 contained flame retardant chemicals. Of all couches tested, 85% were treated with some type of flame retardant.

The same researchers who tested the couches also found, in 2006, Californians had significantly higher amounts of octaBDE and pentaBDE in their bodies than other Americans. Although the chemicals were banned in 2006, they have been replaced by other potentially toxic chemicals.

Other researchers have also conducted hundreds of studies of these chemicals, mostly in animals, but a few studies have been conducted in humans. One study found that babies born to pregnant women with pentaBDE in their blood had a higher risk of low birth weight, low IQ, poor fine motor skills, and shorter attention span.

Tobacco companies initially pushed for flame retardant chemicals to be added to couch foam, according to The Chicago Tribune. Instead of creating fire-safe cigarettes, they suggested the best way to prevent fires was with fire-resistant furniture. The state of California also passed a law requiring furniture to withstand a 12-second fire test. Manufacturers then started adding the chemicals to most furniture sold in the U.S.

The researchers recommended several steps to reduce your exposure:

  • Choose fibers such as wool, cotton, polyester, or hemp when selecting carpets, carpet pads, bedding, cushions, and furniture.
  • Repair any rips in your couch.
  • Keep dust under control in your house, vacuum regularly.
  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Purchase children’s pajamas made of natural fibers, labeled non-flame-resistant.

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