Great news! Recently, California Governor Jerry Brown directed state agencies to "revise flammability standards for upholstered furniture sold in the state." This important move will help reduce toxic flame retardants in furniture in California. According to the Breast Cancer Fund "...the whole nation is affected by California's laws because furniture manufacturers typically make the same products for all 50 states." Hopefully this great news for California will have an impact on flame retardant levels across the country as manufacturers change their practices to meet the needs of the state.
Flame retardants appear in strollers, nursing pillows, couches, cell phones, TVs, computers, and more. Exposures from these common, everyday items have led to Americans having ten times more flame retardant chemicals in their bodies than our friends in the EU, where the most common types of chemical flame retardants have been banned. Kids absorb and ingest flame retardants at a much faster rate than adults because of their small size and proximity to the floor, where dust lurks. Levels of chemical flame retardants are three times higher in toddlers and preschoolers than in their moms.
Why are these exposures a problem? Because flame retardants are linked to serious health side effects, including reduced fertility, low IQ, and disruption of thyroid hormones. Meanwhile, there is actually no impartial data to support the myth promoted by the chemical industry that flame retardants are effective in preventing furniture fire deaths. In fact, flame retardant treated foam ignites after seconds and gives off high levels of the carbon monoxide, soot and smoke that are the major causes of fire deaths. A recent series by the Chicago Tribune called "Playing with Fire" traces the sordid history of flame retardants in furniture, which includes everything from secret lobbyists to Big Tobacco, and resulted in flame retardant standards that negatively impacted the health of families across the nation. (For a brief summary of the series, check out Nicholas Kristof's summary in "Are You Safe on that Sofa?")
While we wait for these changes to take effect, there are a few easy steps you can take to reduce your exposure to flame retardants. Here are our top four tips to minimize flame retardants in your home:
Go natural: Natural fibers, like wool or cotton, are more naturally flame retardant than synthetic fibers and require fewer chemical additives. If you’re not in the market for new furniture, make sure to immediately mend rips in your upholstery that expose the inner foam, since the foam underneath the upholstery tends to be treated with flame retardants.
Take the pledge: Before buying new electronics, contact the manufacturer to make sure your electronics company of choice has pledged to phase flame retardants out of their products.
Watch out for dangerous dust bunnies: Household dust is often home to potentially harmful toxic chemicals. Improve your air quality and keep your living area clean by wet-mopping and vacuuming with a HEPA filter.
Read the label: Avoid products that use polyurethane foam or have a TB117 label. Some manufacturers state their products do not contain halogenated flame retardants, including: BabyLuxe organic pads and mattresses, BabyBjorn baby carriers, OrbitBaby strollers and car seats, and Boppy nursing pillows. Still, even with a safety promise, it’s a good idea to double check with the manufacturer before you buy. You can check chemical levels in carseats and more on HealthyStuff.org.