Is your furniture making you sick?

If I hadn’t read it with my own two eyes I never would have guessed that what’s in some furniture can potentially make people sick.

Ball-and-stick model of flame retardant Pentabromodiphenyl ether or pentaBDE
Ball-and-stick model of flame retardant Pentabromodiphenyl ether or pentaBDE

The more I read, the more my interest was piqued. I, in fact, was quite taken aback once learning chemicals like chlorinated Tris, one of the more common, was removed from children’s pajamas 35-plus years ago because, according to “California Decides to Stop Poisoning Our Sofas” article author Justine E. Hausheer, of its link to cancer. Understanding this, one would think the chemical’s application in the furniture setting would then have likewise stopped. Or, if not at that time, then shortly thereafter. Guess again.

As it relates, in her article – published in OnEarth magazine – Hausheer further stressed: “Semi-volatile chemicals like chlorinated Tris don’t stay inside your couch. Instead, they gradually evaporate and adhere to household dust, which can then be ingested or inhaled.”

Hausheer writes: “Fortunately, hazard­ous flame retardants will soon be a thing of the past — at least in fur­niture,” news that should be welcome.

Hausheer also relates that California “…has strict flammability stan­dards for furniture containing highly combustible polyurethane foam. Known as Technical Bulletin 117, the 1975 guideline was meant to ensure that cushion foam is flame-resistant. But in reality, it does little to prevent the spread of fires because it applies only to the foam inside furniture.”

New regulations are on tap, apparently.

Adds Hausheer: “The new standards would require that the material covering the furniture (where fires actually begin) be flame-resistant, instead of the cushion foam.”

That household furniture be resistant to fire makes sense. But getting the benefit of flame-retardant capability coupled with lower or non-existent chemical toxicity is a winning combination if ever there were one; like having one’s cake and eating it too.

– Alan Kandel

This post was last revised on Dec. 18, 2019 @ 8:49 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.

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