2 studies show FR toxins abound
Heath E. Combs -- Furniture Today, December 10, 2012
HIGH POINT - Two recent studies continue to point to troubling links between toxic flame retardants being found regularly in homes and home furnishings.
Duke University and University of California researchers found that 85% of sofas contained toxic or untested flame-retardants, some of which are linked to cancer.
Another study by the Silent Spring Institute tested California homes, finding that most had levels of at least one flame retardant that exceeded a federal health guideline in household dust, a main route of exposure for adults and children - especially infants and toddlers who spend much time on the floor.
In testing for 49 flame retardants, the study found 36 chemicals in at least 50% of the samples, some at levels of health concern.
Both studies were published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
The American Home Furnishings Alliance released a position statement saying it was not aware of any evidence - and there was none in the study - linking the level of flame retardants typically found in home furnishings to human health problems.
Flame retardants found in the dust are used in furniture, textiles, electronics, and other products. In the Silent Spring study, the highest concentrations were found for chlorinated organophosphate flame retardants.
"Our study found that people are exposed to toxic flame retardants every day," Dr. Robin Dodson, a co-author of the study and, said in a press release. "It is troubling to see that a majority of homes have at least one flame retardant at levels beyond what the federal government says is safe."
The Silent Spring study said there is a need to modernize U.S. chemical policies to require more complete disclosure and safety testing of chemicals used in consumer products prior to sale.
California is currently revising its decades-old rule governing lame retardants known as TB-117. Over time, the rule became a de facto national standard. Separately, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission continues to work on a national standard or upholstery lammability.
The latest studies prompted a broad coalition of groups to continue calling for decreased influence by the chemical industry in regulations; better analysis of fire safety benefits; removal of toxic chemicals from upholstery; better labeling; reform of federal chemical testing; and ensuring that current toxic FR chemicals aren't replaced with other toxic chemicals.
Officials with the Sustainable Furnishings Council and the Specialty Sleep Assn. urged improved regulation of chemicals to support public health.
"The chemical industry shouldn't be able to market chemicals to manufacturers and retailers unless we know beyond a reasonable doubt that they are safe. They make the chemicals, they should be held responsible," Susan Inglis, executive director of the SFC, said in a press release.
"Business should be encouraged to reject hazardous chemicals and instead innovate and create safer chemicals and products," she said.
The Specialty Sleep Assn. encouraged manufacturers to embrace responsible sourcing and sound manufacturing practices. Manufacturers should offer healthy, environmentally sound, fire resistant options to consumers that are truthfully marketed to consumers, SSA President Dale Read said in a release.
"Savvy, aware consumers will demand to know what is inside their upholstered furniture and mattresses," Read said.
Dr. Arlene Blum, a study co-author and executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute, said in a press release that 35 years after chlorinated tris was removed from children's sleepwear, more than more than a third of American sofas contain the same toxic flame retardant.
"And sadly enough, many Americans could now have increased cancer risks from the chlorinated tris in their furniture," Blum said.