Photo credit: yuan2003
Environmental group Friends of the Earth just released a report that looked into the toxicity of furniture, and uncovered some killer findings. "Killer Couches: Protecting Infants & Children from Toxic Exposure" [PDF] found that a high percentage of California furniture contains toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption, and reproductive and neurological dysfunction. Even worse, these toxins are particularly dangerous to infants and children.
"Friends of the Earth tested a sample of 350 pieces of household furniture in stores and domestic residences and found that most of the furniture had high levels of toxic halogenated fire retardants. This analysis suggests that product contamination is widespread in California, exposing the state's population to a significant and unnecessary risk." Yikes.Further, "Today, Californians who undergo testing are finding halogenated fire retardants stored in their bodies at increasing rates, with babies and children showing the highest levels." "Halogenated fire retartants," by the way, include brominated and chlorinated fire retardants (BFRs -- the same that HP and Dell are working to get out of their computers -- and CFRs) as halogenated fire retardants. This is inclusive also of PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), a sub-class of BFRs.
Why California? Halogenated fire retardants are widely used to meet California's strict flammability regulation, Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117). The Polyurethane Foam Association estimates that this standard has led to the use of millions of pounds of halogenated fire retardants in furniture annually since 1975.
There is a lot of stuff to digest here; the gist of it is that there's a lot to watch out for in furniture, but it's worth it. The chemicals are persistent in the environment and our bodies, and have the greatest (that is, most negative) effects on our children and youngsters. To really get into the nitty gritty, read the whole thing. Thankfully, there is some good news.
Friends of the Earth is working to end the use of halogenated fire retardants in furniture in California and is the co-sponsor of California Assemblyman Mark Leno's Assembly Bill 706 (AB706), the Crystal Golden-Jefferson Furniture Safety and Fire Prevention Act. Poised for passage in 2008, AB706 will ban halogenated fire retardants, while promoting safer, affordable and less toxic fire safety measures in furniture including fire resistant upholstery fibers, bio-based furniture filling foams, improved furniture design and phosphate-based chemicals, boric acid and melamine.