That little white label on your couch indicating that it meets flame retardant standards might have reassured you that you would be protected from fire. But would you feel safe knowing the same label meant your couch contained pounds of toxic flame retardants that studies show harm human health and the environment?
My guess is no.
Virtually every couch in America has been infused with millions of pounds of toxic chemicals due to a little known California regulation that has become the de facto standard for the country, Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117).
After nearly 40 years, the days appear to be numbered for TB 117, thanks to California Governor Jerry Brown’s decision to revise the regulation and “find better ways to meet fire safety standards without the use of dangerous chemicals.“ This one act will have a monumental impact on products such as couches, car seats and other baby products made in the U.S. that contain foam filled with toxic chemicals.
Scientific studies have found flame retardants are linked to serious health effects including lower IQ, reproductive disorders, learning disabilities, and cancer! Unfortunately our kids bear the brunt of this exposure. According to a study by EWG, toddlers have three times the levels of flame retardants as their mothers. Why? Because the chemicals don’t stay locked in the foam; as the foam breaks down, chemicals are released in dust, which toddlers ingest or inhale as they crawl around on the floor, suck on their fingers or pick up toys covered with dust.
That alone is a mother’s nightmare. It gets worse.
A groundbreaking investigative series in the Chicago Tribune uncovered that the motivation for adding chemical flame retardants to furniture wasn’t because they were effective at stopping fires. Rather, the tobacco industry misled lawmakers about the safety and effectiveness of flame retardants to stave off calls for a fire-safe cigarette. Adding flame retardants to furniture is just another tobacco industry con job, the outcome of a campaign of lies that played on people’s real fear of their furniture starting fires.
The outcome of the tobacco and chemical industry’s deception, fueled by millions of dollars of lobbying money over four decades, has caused grave harm to people:
- U.S. babies and toddlers have some of the highest levels of flame retardants in the industrial world.
- Pregnant women’s bodies contain high levels of flame retardants, which may interfere with fetal brain development.
- Firefighters, who run into burning homes full of toxic chemical gasses, are put at risk for cancer, including rare cancers usually found only in chemical workers.
You can do something to make things better:
First, tell Congress to pass the Safe Chemicals Act to fix our broken system that allows toxic chemicals to proliferate in everyday products.
Second, protect your family by taking action at home. According to Arlene Blum of Green Science Policy Institute and a member of Healthy Child Healthy World’s Science Advisory Board, use the following tips to reduce your family’s exposure to toxic flame retardants:
- Consider buying baby products that contain polyester, down, wool or cotton (not polyurethane foam) which are less likely to contain harmful flame retardant chemicals. Examples include BabyBjorn baby carriers, Boppy nursing pillows, and Baby Luxe polyester- and cotton-filled pads and mattresses.
- Vacuum often (with a HEPA filter) and wet-mop to reduce build-up of dust in your home.
- Wash hands frequently, as hand-to-mouth contact with dust is the major pathway for exposure.