November 30, 2012 –According to a study published by researchers from Duke University, the majority of couches in American households contain potentially toxic flame retardants. Foam inside couches can become airborne house dust, with possible health risks if it is ingested. According to study co-author Arlene Blu, “The levels are enormous … People have a pound of these toxic chemicals in their couches.”
The researchers tested 102 couches in California households, of which 41% contained chlorinated Tris, which is a likely human carcinogen that was banned from use in baby pajamas in 1977. Another 17% contained pentaBDE, which is banned. The majority of the couches, 85%, were treated with some type of flame retardant that was either untested or potentially toxic. Flame retardants were primarily found in newer couches — 94% of couches purchased after 2005 tested positive for the chemicals.
Another study, conducted in 2006, found that Californians had significantly higher levels of pentaBDE and octaBDE in their bodies than the rest of the nation. The same year, California banned the chemicals. When the homes were re-tested in 2011, there were increased levels of other chemicals that could be toxic.
According to The Chicago Tribune, the use of flame retardants in furniture was pushed by tobacco companies as the best way to reduce fires from cigarettes — instead of creating fire-safe cigarettes. California then passed a flammability standard known as TB117, which required all furniture sold in the state to withstand fire for at least 12 seconds. Because California is a huge market for couches, most manufacturers adopted the standards nationwide.
Hundreds of animal studies and a few human studies have been conducted. Exposure to flame retardants has been linked to hormone disruption, cancer, and neurological toxicity. One study found that pregnant women with pentaBDE in their bloodstream were more likely to have a baby with low birth weight, low IQ, a shorter attention span, and less fine motor coordination.
The research institute that conducted the study made the following recommendations to reduce your exposure:
- Select carpets, carpet pads, bedding, cushions, and furniture made from natural materials such as cotton, wool, polyester, or hemp.
- Repair rips in your couch.
- Vacuum regularly and clean up dust.
- Wash hands regularly to prevent dust from entering your body.
- Buy pajamas for children made of cotton, labeled as non-flame-resistant.
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