Many home couches contain potentially toxic flame retardants

November 28, 2012

Scientists are reporting an increasing use of flame retardants in the main gathering spot for adults, children and family pets in the home -- the couch. In a study published in ACS' journal Environmental Science & Technology, they describe the first efforts to detect and identify the flame retardants applied to the foam inside couches found in millions of family rooms and living rooms across the U.S.

Heather Stapleton and colleagues explain that many U.S. manufacturers adhere to California's flammability standard -- termed "Technical Bulletin 117" (TB117) -- and use flame retardants in residential furniture. The 1975 standard (now being modified to increase fire safety without flame retardants) focused on saving lives by protecting against home fires started by candles, matches and other small flames. Research, however, indicated that flame retardants can migrate from foam to household dust to people and pets. Other research linked flame retardants with adverse health effects. Stapleton's team set out to gather information that consumers often lack, including which couches contain flame retardants and what kinds.

The researchers analyzed 102 foam samples from residential couches and found that more manufacturers -- about 85 percent -- are now using flame retardants in their couches compared to the past. For couches purchased in the last seven years, 93 percent contained flame retardants. More than half of the couches contained untested flame retardants or retardants that have raised health concerns, including "Tris," which is considered a probable human carcinogen based on animal studies and was phased out from use in baby pajamas in 1977.
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The authors acknowledge funding from a private donation from Fred and Alice Stanback, as well as from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

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