Our sofas may no longer be a safe haven for movie nights and cuddling with our sweetie pies. According to a Duke University and University of California-Berkley study, more than one-third of all couches in the United States contain potential toxic chemicals that are dangerous for humans to inhale. Meant to keep us safe, these chemicals, also known as flame retardants, were included in the 15-year study between 1985 to 2010 and have increased in use of upholstered furniture in an effort to reduce household fires.
The study also noted that many of the flame retardants found in the 104 couches tested are “associated with hormone disruption, neurological and reproductive toxicity and/or cancer in hundreds of animal studies and a number of human studies.” This newly found association poses a threat to families with small children who are closer to the floor and constantly put their hands in their mouths.
The chemicals of concern include Tris, a carcinogen phased out of baby pajamas back in 1977, and Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers, or PBDEs. The Environmental Protection Agency is concerned that certain PBDE congeners are persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic to both humans and the environment and are currently under research and investigation.
But before we go crucifying furniture manufacturers, it is worth mentioning that these chemicals now being called into question were part of the manufacturers’ duties as requested by state laws. According to Science Blog, associate professor of environmental chemistry at Duke’s Niholas School of the Environment, Heather Stapleton revealed that manufacturers in recent years are treating their couches’ foam padding with chemical flame retardants to adhere to California Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117).
Right now there is debate going on among experts as to whether or not the need for less-toxic chemicals should be called in to question or if the main priority is keeping people safe from fires. In the meantime, there has been no resolution for individuals and families concerned about their exposure to these toxic chemicals. Outside of buying PBDE-free furniture (found at places like IKEA), most likely people won’t spring for switching out their entire living room set just yet. For now, we are all sitting ducks until affordable solutions come to the table.
Are you concerned about toxic chemicals in your furniture?