Your Toxic Sofa: Why It Is Still Full of Flame Retardants
California is a big state, so when its Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (yes, that's what it is called) sets a standard, it pretty much becomes an national standard. That's what happened with flame retardants, that make up as much as 10% of the weight of your sofa. We've noted before that that flame retardants are a problem because they are bioaccumulative and are being found everywhere, from baby's umbilical cords to polar bears. That they be endocrine disruptors. That they don't even work or even do more harm than good.
In the New York Times Magazine, Dashka Slater writes an overlong article How Dangerous Is Your Couch? that describes the political process of changing rules like this, in depressing detail. It seems that at State and federal levels, the chemical industry just keeps buying votes.
Between 2007 and 2011, according to an investigation by Environmental Health News, manufacturers of fire-retardant chemicals spent more than $23.2 million defending Technical Bulletin 117. A significant portion of the money went to support an organization called Citizens for Fire Safety, whose Web site describes itself as “a coalition of fire professionals, educators, community activists, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders.” Over the past two years, the group has fought bills in more than a dozen states that would have banned flame retardants from children’s products.
I noted earlier that Citizens for Fire Safety is funded by Albemarle Corporation, Chemtura Corporation and ICL Industrial Products, the big producers of the flame retardants.
There are so many issues here. The fire risk has been decreasing steadily with the decline in the number of smokers; the bromine industry is huge and they don't want to lose their market; the sofas are made primarily of polyurethane foam, a huge part of the chemical industry. If people were willing to invest in decent furniture that was made from natural materials like wool and cotton, which are far less toxic when they burn, there would be less of a problem. If the building industry would stop fighting the idea of sprinklers, there would be no problem at all.
Instead, we get toxic sofas. More in the New York Times