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Many couches contain potentially toxic flame retardants

Wendy Koch
November 28, 2012

More than half of U.S. couches contain potentially toxic flame retardants that pose risks to humans as the chemicals migrate from furniture foam into house dust, says a Duke University-led study published today.

Of 102 couches tested, 41% had foam with chlorinated Tris, a probable human carcinogen removed from baby pajamas in 1977, and 17% contained the chemical pentaBDE, now globally banned, according to the peer-reviewed study in Environmental Science & Technology. Most, 85%, were treated with some kind of untested or potentially toxic flame retardant.

“The levels are enormous … People have a pound of these toxic chemicals in their couches,” says coauthor Arlene Blum, a chemist at the University of California-Berkeley and founder of the Green Science Policy Institute, which studies chemicals in consumer products. She says flame retardants account for up to 11% of the foam’s weight and were most common in sofas five years old or less; 94% contained them.

More manufacturers have been treating polyurethane foam with flame retardants to meet a California flammability standard, known as TB117, that requires furniture sold in the state to withstand a 12-second exposure to a small open flame without igniting. Because of the size of the California market, its standard has become a de facto national one.

Full story here. [1]