Think twice before taking a seat.
From home furnishings to construction supplies, flame retardants are added to fabrics and other materials to retard the spread of fire. Despite being in common use since the 1970s, health experts have long known about the toxic threats associated with many of these chemicals, including cancer and birth defects, and have eliminated certain varieties as a result.
However, a new study to be published in the August issue of Environmental International has revealed that beloved broken couches may be spewing harmful dust into your home at alarming levels, according to researchers from the Silent Spring Institute.
“These are real risks,” said Kathryn Rodgers, scientist and lead author. Studies have shown that these dangerous substances are associated with hormonal disturbances, immunosuppression, some cancers and, most worryingly, problems in fetal development and in early childhood.
“When you look at some of these values, you say that’s just a bit of dust. A drop in the bucket, ”he told Fast Company. But after many hours on the couch, he explained, “these exposures add up. They are day after day. And they are real. “
What can a babysitter do? Get rid of that old, or legacy, sofa and get yourself a modern model, the researchers suggest.
Flame retardants became standard practice in 1975 after California, one of the nation’s largest furniture markets, according to the Fast Company report, enacted a law requiring the additive in the manufacture and import of furniture. Soon, the foam material used to create sofa cushions across the country permeated the arrangement.
In the early 2000s, scientists began to recognize potential health risks and, in 2013, California revised its standard, making the use of retardants in furniture manufacturing optional. In 2020, the federal government followed suit, supporting California’s ambiguous stance, which means that some factories continue to use retardants, although they are increasingly preventable.
To find out how much damage old, chemical-laden couches are doing to American homes, researchers at the Silent Sprint Institute recruited 42 households who were willing to have their old upholstered seats replaced. Dust samples were collected from these houses before the sofa change and again once the new seats arrived.
They found that the initial samples were packed with worrying concentrations of flame retardants, which are released into the indoor environment every time a body hits the cushion.
But with a new sofa and six months in between, toxic dust levels had sunk well within a safe range, the researchers found.
The findings suggest that sofas manufactured after 2014 contain significantly lower levels of these harmful chemicals, and consumers should purchase seats produced after that date.
Also, keep an eye out for the “TB117-2013” code on the furniture label, which indicates that the part was manufactured after California standards changed. In some cases, the description establishes more definitively whether the material contains flame retardants with a “yes” or “no” indicated as confirmation.
In the past, the American Chemical Council has stated that adding these chemicals to furniture has prevented about 360 deaths and 740 injuries each year. But the jury is in favor of Rodgers, who explained that better product design has made flame retardants nearly obsolete.
“[They] It didn’t make sense from a fire safety perspective, because fires don’t start from the middle of your couch, ”he said.