Study: 85 Percent of Couches Contain Flame Retardants

For a few years, I have been an advocate of removing toxic flame retardants from baby products. Some of these flame retardants have been linked to hormone disruption, neurological and reproductive toxicity, and cancer.

One of the foremost experts in this area, Dr. Arlene Blum, just released a study showing that 85 percent of couches contain toxic or untested flame retardant chemicals, including one that was taken out of children’s pajamas in the 1970s.

Berkeley, CA – A new Duke University and UC Berkeley study published today in Environmental Science & Technology found that 85% of the couches tested are treated with chemical flame retardants, which are either toxic or lack adequate health information. Of the 102 couches tested, 41% contained chlorinated Tris (or TDCPP), the cancer-causing flame retardant removed from baby pajamas in the 1970s, while another 17% contained the globally-banned chemical pentaBDE.

Many of the flame retardants found in these couches are associated with hormone disruption, neurological and reproductive toxicity and/or cancer in hundreds of animal studies and a number of human studies. These chemicals continuously migrate out of furniture foam into house dust. The dust can then be ingested by pets and people, especially small children who are close to the floor and put their hands into their mouths.

“Hard to believe, 35 years after our research contributed to removing Tris from children’s sleepwear, our current study suggests that more than a third of Americans couches contain the same toxic flame retardant,” said Dr. Arlene Blum, co-author of the study and executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. “And sadly enough, many Americans could now have increased cancer risks from the Tris in their furniture.”

Unfortunately, it is difficult to find any couches without the chemicals as California’s flammability standard, TB117, practically mandates it. But from what I remember a few years ago, states without this safety code actually had disproportionately less fires than in California. Grrrr….Here’s more from the press statement that Blum put out:

Ironically, the chemicals, in quantities used to meet the California furniture flammability standard TB117, have no meaningful effect on fire safety as demonstrated in tests conducted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Underwriters Laboratories and independent fire scientists.

The flame retardants themselves will burn in a few seconds and when they do much greater quantities of toxic gases can be produced. “It is the exposure to toxic gases, soot, and smoke during combustion that is responsible for most fire deaths and injuries, according to National Fire Protection Association data,” says Dr. Donald Lucas, a combustion scientist from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC Berkeley.

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About Elisa

I am a journalist and online organizer who is the co-publisher of this blog. When I am not online, I am shuttling around my two kids, an 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.

5 thoughts on “Study: 85 Percent of Couches Contain Flame Retardants

  1. Arlene Blum’s work is really interesting, and she is an amazing lady. It was a real treat to meet her last year at the SF Kossacks holiday party.

  2. I wonder if Lindy West at Jezebel reads MTers. This study is now up at Jezebel and I doubt they read the West County Times over there. They sometimes post stuff from dKos so you never know.

  3. The Center for Environmental Health has been working on this and many related issues for years. And they are so smart about the way they work, trying to get us all to be more aware of how the chemical industry operates so we can be advocates in making change happen!

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