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Easy Steps to Take to Avoid Carcinogenic Flame Retardants in Upholstered Furniture

flame retardants in upholstered furnitureToxic flame retardants in upholstered furniture have been a hot topic lately because they cause an array of health problems, from decreased memory and thyroid problems to birth defects and cancer. A lot of people have heard about the problems associated with flame retardants but there are many unanswered questions, such as where and why they are used, how we are exposed to them, how we can reduce exposure to them, and what laws govern them. This post answers these questions and provides ways and products you can use to reduce your exposure to toxic flame retardants in upholstered furniture.

Changes to law governing flame retardants in upholstered furniture

flame retardants in upholstered furnitureIf you interested in the story of how flame retardants in upholstered furniture came about read the “Key Flame Retardant Law is About to Change” guest post written by my husband, Bill Webb, who is a business litigation attorney. Bill has recently updated the post with information about changes to California law referred to as TB117 that motivated many manufacturers to use flame retardants in upholstered furniture. The primary change in this law involves replacing an open fire 12-second test for upholstered furniture filling with a smolder test for upholstered furniture covers, which will reduce or even (we hope) eliminate the need for flame retardants.

While it is great news that California updated the law, we will still be exposed to flame retardants in upholstered furniture for some time, for several reasons. First, the effective date of the law has been moved back to January 1, 2015. Second, not everybody can afford to replace all their furniture at once. Also, some manufacturers might still use some flame retardants in upholstered furniture – of lesser quality – to comply with the new smolder test. I have talked to a number of manufacturers about whether they will have to make any changes to comply with the updated law and the bottom line is that they do not have enough information yet to know that. So before we get rid of flame retardants in upholstered furniture from our homes, how should we protect ourselves from the toxicity of flame retardants?

How flame retardants in upholstered furniture enter our bodies

Before we talk about the reduction of exposure to flame retardants in upholstered furniture, it is important to understand how they enter our bodies. By the way, once they do so, they will stay there for years. They love fat tissue and are thus found even in breast milk. They also do not break down in nature easily. Flame retardants are semi-volatile compounds, which means that furniture “sheds” tiny particles that settle into dust. What do you think that dust you see in your house is made of? Some of it is dead skin cells but some of it is toxic flame retardants. We then inhale or eat the dust (http://greensciencepolicy.org/node/334). Crawling babies and toddlers who spend a lot of time on the floor have a much higher concentration of flame retardants in their blood (http://www.ewg.org/research/fire-retardants-toddlers-and-their-mothers).

Ways to reduce exposure to flame retardants in upholstered furniture

Get Rid of the Dust

When you dust, make sure that you use damp cloth so the dust particles containing flame-retardants do not fly up into the air. Vacuum with a HEPA filter vacuum (such as with this one from the Green Nest store). When I researched vacuums, I learned that it is important to have a vacuum that seals dust inside (email me and I will tell you which HEPA vacuum I love). Mop the floors in your house regularly.

Less is more

It is easier to clean the house when you have less stuff. Also less stuff means less potential to shed flame-retardants and off-gas volatile compounds. If you do not need something take it to Goodwill or the Salvation Army.

Wash your hands

Wash your hand frequently, especially before you eat, so you do not ingest the dust on your hands.

Flame retardant-free upholstered furniture to buy

Most upholstery furniture is made with polyurethane foam filling. As polyurethane foam is made from petroleum, you can probably imagine three things – it is toxic, unsustainable, and highly flammable. Most manufacturers who use polyurethane foam utilize flame-retardants to pass the flammability test. Thus, I recommend upholstered furniture that uses 100% natural latex for filling, organic cotton or hemp fabric for covers and a wool barrier to pass the flammability test. Wool acts as a natural flame retardant. In general, polyurethane furniture is cheaper. However, I have seen very expensive furniture made of polyurethane foam. And if you consider all the health benefits you will be gaining, environmental goodwill you will be making, and the fact that natural latex is a material that lasts longer that polyurethane foam without sagging, you will know you are getting a great value. Here are a couple of places where you can buy furniture free of polyurethane foam, flame retardants, and other toxins.

Furnature

This is a family-owned business that makes upholstery furniture, bed frames, mattresses, pillows for people with extreme chemical sensitivities, and the like. So there are no questionable chemicals in their furniture whatsoever. The furniture filling is natural rubber Dunlop latex (the highest quality latex) blend and they carry a wide selection of organic upholstery covers. They can make custom furniture or sell you material for you to make or re-haul your furniture. All the wood is solid and wood finishes are non-toxic. For more information on the great quality materials they use, go to http://www.furnature.com/furniture-ingredients-faqs.html. When researching this post, I telephoned Furnature and spoke with one of the owners, Fred Shapiro. He is 85 years old and works 6 days a week because he loves what he does. I was really impressed with the level of his knowledge of chemicals that make us sick and how to avoid them. Fred sounded in full control of supplied materials. He generously offered a 5 percent discount to people who mention my name (Irina Webb). (For the purpose of full disclosure, I will get a small referral fee if you mention my name; my primary focus is to find and recommend non-toxic products but if I am offered commissions along the way for products I believe in, I do not refuse them; they help defray the expenses of this blog.) Lastly, Furnature will ship anywhere in the US.  To see their products, go to furnature.com

EcoBalanza

EcoBalanza is another maker of absolutely non-toxic upholstered furniture. Their furniture filling is made from natural latex foam and organic cotton batting. They use an organic wool barrier for its flame retardant property, and the covers are made with organic cotton/hemp muslin. They also do custom orders and ship anywhere in the US. For more information about the EcoBalanza, go to www.greenerlifestyles.com.

Viesso

Viesso uses only natural material as well – natural latex, eco wool and organic cotton, and solid locally-sourced wood. They also use recycled fabrics and reclaimed woods. To buy their upholstered furniture, go to Viesso website. Please note that on its website, Viesso sells furniture of other makers and that furniture might not be fully natural and non-toxic. Look for Viesso’s eco-friendly option.

You can also buy Viesso sofas at the Ultimate Green Store. Click on the image below to see different colors and sizes.


Viesso Blumen Sofa – $2,882.00

from: The Ultimate Green Store

Bean Products, Inc.

Among other things, Bean Products carries organic upholstery furniture that is made of 100% natural Dunlop latex foam, organic cotton batting, and covers made from durable natural hemp. All the other materials are non-toxic: wood, finishes, and glue. There are no flame retardants in upholstered furniture whatsoever.  Bean Products furniture is made in the USA in Chicago and it is shipped anywhere in the US. They can make custom furniture for your taste and budget. To see their beautiful organic furniture, go to Bean Products website here.

Conclusion about flame retardants in upholstered furniture

flame retardants in upholstered furnitureIn conclusion, flame retardants are commonly used and toxic. We should protect ourselves from toxic flame retardants in upholstered furniture. We can do it with relatively easy steps – small steps matter.

 

14 thoughts on “Easy Steps to Take to Avoid Carcinogenic Flame Retardants in Upholstered Furniture”

  1. Hi Irina,

    Thanks for your information about toxic flame retardants. I was wondering if you are aware of any mainstream companies offering couches that meet the new TB 117-2013 standards? The few I’ve called sound like they won’t be offering furniture meeting the new standards until they have to next year… 🙁 Alternatively, of the companies that never did use the toxins, do you have a favorite? They all seem so expensive and not all that attractive!

    Thank you!
    Caitlin

  2. I am seeking more info on Bodipedic and Novafoam Memory and gel foam products. I am only 29 years old and am generally health conscious but have been feeling an increasing amount of pain and soreness over the last few years, not to mention a depletion in energy and mood. In the last year or two I have purchased new Serta leather couches, and the above memory/gel foam bed brands and its recently been brought to my attention the potentially harmful chemicals in all of the above products. Would it be fair to assume that these products are contributing to my symptoms, and if so aren’t there laws that require companies that manufacture and sell to the US to disclose the ingredients of their products? I can’t find ingredients for these items anywhere. Please Help! email or call. Thank you for your time. ~Mary Christ

  3. Catherine Smith

    Irina- can you suggest the name of any companies that provide crib mattresses and other baby products without flame retardant available before 2015? My son and his wife, who live in Chicago, are expecting their first baby this June. I am hoping that they can purchase products without flame retardants.
    Additionally, I have a Sleep Number bed which has the #117 on the foam layer therein. I would like to have the polyurethane foam layers replaced with some other non-toxic material. Do you know if there is any plan for bedding companies to offer alternative replacement layers, either as a “recall” or for a reasonable price? Is there any benefit in putting a dust mite zippered cover on it to prevent the dust from being emitted?
    Thank you for this important work.
    Catherine

    1. Hi Catherine, thank you for asking these important questions. There is a lot to cover here for a comment. As far as crib mattresses are concerned, I have researched the whole crib mattress industry so I do have a lot of recommendations. However, to make a better recommendation, I need to know their budget, preference in materials, waterproof/non-waterproof. By the way, the change in flame retardant law affects only upholstered furniture, not mattresses. As an example, I like Naturepedic crib mattresses. I can work with your son and his wife on locating the best mattress for their needs. For more information about my services, please visit my services page here. The same goes for your bed solution project. I am sorry I can’t be more helpful. It just I can’t make recommendations without knowing the specifics of your situation. For example, I would need to know if you have allergies, etc, etc, etc. Please email me privately if you are interested in hiring me as your non-toxic consultant for a reasonable flat fee. Thank you!

  4. Hi there, I did see something like this on doc Oz and was concerned. My 2 year old as well as ourselves have a memory foam on our bed that is 100% polyothane. They’re are covered and then have two more sheets wrapped around them but should we take these things off out beds???

  5. Hi, Irina!
    I’m searching for a new bed! I recently had to have back surgery due to a car accident I was in, so I’ve been looking for something that’ll relieve some of the pressure off of my lower back. I was looking at Sleep Number beds, which are very comfortable, but I didn’t want to just settle on something. I want a bed that’s going to meet my needs, not harmful to my body or the environment. Can you point me in the right direction?

  6. I understand that b-tris was banned from baby pajamas, but children’s pajamas still have flame retardants in them, correct, the chlor-tris? I have been finding ways to get my 8-y-o twins pjs from European countries that do not require use of these chemicals or getting “long johns”. Will the new law change existing flame retardant requirements for pjs?

    I also find furniture manufacturers very unknowledgable/cagey about answering questions about flame retardants. We are looking for a new mattress. If the company labels it’s product “organic”, is it free os all flame retardants? Are there flame retardant-free mattresses or furniture out there?

    Thanks for the important work you are doing,

    Vicki Peet

    1. Hi Vicki, yes – flame retardant chemicals might be still present in baby pajamas. However, sleepwear for children under 9 months of age and pajamas that are tight fitting for any age should not contain added flame retardants. Look for a tag that says, “For child’s safety, garment should fit snugly. This garment is not flame resistant. Also, organic pajamas do not contain flame retardants and some US companies make those. You might want to check out CastleWare. Castleware is a small business in California that make fabulous sleepwear for babies and kids. I am a huge fan! As for mattresses, normally organic mattresses are free of flame retardants because they have wool barriers to meet the Federal flammability regulation. But you should always ask because “organic” is not a regulated term. Let me know if you need help with choosing a mattress. Thank for following my blog!

  7. Evellyn Ramos

    Unfortunately i wasn’t aware of flame retardants a few months ago when I was buying everything for my baby )o: Thank God I insisted on buying an organic crib mattress. However, all the furniture in his room has lots of fire retardants. Right now we don’t have the money to change all his nursery furniture. I was thinking about wrapping the sofa bed mattress, in his room, in plastic. Have you read anything about wrapping mattresses? Would that be a good temporary solution? We also have a tempurpedic mattress. I called them and they told me they don’t use fire retardants, but its hard to believe. And I read that memory foam mattress should not even be wrapped, but thrown away. For now we plan on buying a good air purifier and wrap what we can. Any recommendations? I was looking for info in the amount of years needed for these gases to leave furniture and foams, but couldn’t find it. Since, a quick cheap solution could be buying old semi-new sofas etc. Thanks

    1. Hi Evellyn,

      I do not recommend wrapping furniture in plastic because plastic might not seal it properly plus plastic itself might introduce toxic phthalates or BPA or BPA relatives into the environment. I think the best is to decide what is more cost effective: replace foam in the cushions versus installing air purifier as a short-term solution. To learn where foam exchange places are in your area, please contact Green Science Policy institute at http://greensciencepolicy.org/responsible-furniture-disposal/. For air purifiers. I recommend buying them from Mary Cordaro or other certified bau-biologist here. If you decide to exchange foam for petroleum foam (called polyurethane foam) instead of natural latex, you will have to use air purifier because even flame retardant-free petroleum foam off gasses. Alternatively, you can simply remove the furniture from the baby room for now and let it off bass some place else. By the way, flame retardants are SVOC, meaning that the older the furniture the more flame retardants shed from the furniture. Another thing to keep in mind is that a lot of mattresses do not have flame retardants but use flame retardant barrier with less toxic chemicals in it. So before doing all that, you have to know whether your furniture contains flame retardants. Read labels on it! Let me know if it helps. I can consult with you for a fee if you need more help and feel overwhelmed.

  8. I am currently living in CA and have recently starting learning about flame retardants and off gassing pertaining to mattresses. I co-sleep with my 9 month old and am looking for a new mattress. We have no allergies and I want the to find the least expensive safer mattress I can find. What’s the cheapest route I can go? I’ve been so worried about the old mattress we’ve been sleeping on.

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