Flame Retardants Feeling the Heat


The problem:

Toxic flame retardants are found in a variety of consumer products, including upholstered furniture, textiles, and many electronic devices. The chemicals, which have been linked to cancer, decreased brain functioning, and thyroid problems, can migrate out of products and accumulate in dust. Originally, manufacturers added the chemicals to furniture with the intent of lowering the risk of fire. Yet, research shows the chemicals do little, if anything, to prevent fires. Instead, the use of smoke detectors and sprinkler systems combined with smoking bans have had a far more dramatic impact on reducing fire risk. The good news is a number of states recently have adopted new flammability standards that allow for the production of furniture and other products free of flame retardants. The bad news is there is still a lot of furniture out there—in people's homes, offices, and other buildings—laden with toxic flame retardants.

What you can do:

Repair ripped furniture to prevent the interior foam from being exposed and avoid “egg crate” foam mattress pads. When buying furniture, ask retailers for products free of flame-retardants and look for furniture with the TB117-2013 label, one of the new flammability standards. Select bedding, cushions, and upholstered furniture made from naturally flame-resistant materials such as wool, polyester, and hemp. Choose pillows and mattress pads containing 100 percent polyester, cotton, down, or down alternative fill.

Engage your institution. Contact your school's administrators, building managers, or the sustainability office, and encourage your institution to purchase school furnishings free of flame retardants like the couches in the student lounges. Increase awareness among school leaders and across campus of the serious health risks associated with flame retardants and the existence of alternative and safer furnishings free of toxic chemicals.