Mom Detective: My Hunt For A Flame Retardant Free Couch

BY ON February 4, 2015

Two kids listening to music and laughing sitting on a couch

Change is happening. As buyers continue to demand flame retardant-free furniture, manufacturers have no other option but to listen.

It’s no secret flame retardants have been linked to cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption and other serious health problems, yet much of the furniture in the market place continues to be filled with these toxic chemicals.

There’s some good news to report.

Office Furniture and Toxic Flame Retardants

A group of companies that cumulatively spend over $520 million annually on office furniture have pledged to purchase furniture that contains no chemical flame retardants. By taking this pledge they are joining forces to demand their office furniture suppliers offer safer products without flame retardant chemicals.

This is a big shift in the right direction. With these companies taking the lead, they’re sending a strong message to all furniture companies that it’s time to end the use of toxic flame retardant chemicals.

According to the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) a small group of office furniture companies have already committed to selling flame retardant-free furniture.

CEH also released the names of the corporations and government entities that have signed the CEH Purchaser’s Pledge. The companies on this list have taken a pledge to purchase furniture made without toxic chemicals. Their commitment to purchase chemical-free furniture kicks off a national trend towards safer products made without flame retardants.

Some of the companies committing to purchase furniture made without toxic chemicals include: HDR Architecture (North America’s 2nd largest design firm, with 8,500 employees working in 200 locations worldwide), Facebook, Staples, Autodesk, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and San Francisco Department of the Environment.

Residential Furniture and Toxic Flame Retardants

Back in 2013, a study of 102 couch samples (including one from Moms Clean Air Force’s Public Health Policy and Outreach Manager, Molly Rauch), were gathered from around the country and tested for the presence of flame retardant chemicals. An alarming 41% of the samples were found to contain chlorinated Tris, a carcinogenic flame retardant which was banned for use in baby pajamas in the 1970s.

Thankfully, there’s good news coming out of California. Beginning on January 1, 2015, companies that sell furniture in the state of California (manufacturers are applying this to products sold nationwide) are required to include a label that discloses if upholstered furniture products contain flame retardants. Check for the label underneath or on the back side of furniture.

These new safety regulations also allow upholstered furniture to be made without flame retardants. It’s important to note that these regulations don’t ban added flame retardants from furniture. Unfortunately, only products manufactured after January 1, 2015 will require the label, and mattresses are not required to be labeled. But again, it’s a step in the right direction.

The Chicago Tribune reported reported:

“…that major furniture retailers including Crate and Barrel, Room & Board, and Williams-Sonoma (Pottery Barn, West Elm) all say they have mostly eliminated the chemicals from their products. IKEA, La-Z-Boy, The Futon Shop, Scandinavian Designs and Wal-Mart also said they have told vendors to stop adding flame retardants to furniture.”

The nation’s largest furniture company, Wisconsin-based Ashley Furniture, reported to the Chicago Tribune it is committed to making products that don’t contain flame retardants.

This is big news. According to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, Ashley Furniture is not only the biggest furniture retailer in the US, they’re also the biggest manufacturer, and one of the biggest in the world with nearly $4 billion in sales. We now need Ashley Furniture to take the next step by announcing a clear public time frame for phasing out these chemicals in furniture foam and fabrics.

How to find flame retardant-free furniture

With the new safety regulations in place my search for chemical-free furniture just became a bit easier. While manufacturers aren’t required to remove flame retardants from their furniture, these new requirements are a few steps closer to transparency when it comes to our furniture purchases.

Let your dollars do the talking and seek out furniture retailers and manufacturers that commit to carrying furniture without toxic flame retardants.

  • Check if the company is on the CEH list and has removed all flame retardant chemicals from their furniture.
  • Ask retailers and manufacturers if the product/model you are considering is flame retardant-free.
  • Verify that the furniture you’re planning to purchase was manufactured after January 1, 2015.
  • Let retailers who continue to use toxic flame retardants know that you won’t be purchasing their products.
  • When purchasing furniture, use the NRDC guide and verify with the store that the product is flame retardant-free.
  • Look for the new label from companies that sell furniture in the state of California which discloses if upholstered furniture products contain flame retardants.




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TOPICS: Mom Detective, Toxics