Environmental Health News - Toxic couches? Flame retardants on the rise in furniture, study finds

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November 28, 2012
By Brett Israel

Flame retardants in U.S. furniture are on the rise, with a new study finding them in nearly all couches tested. The findings, published today, confirm that household furniture remains a major source of a variety of flame retardants, some of which have been building up in people’s bodies and in the environment. In the new tests, three out of every four couches purchased before 2005 contained the chemicals, with a now-banned compound in 39 percent. For newer couches, about 95 percent contained flame retardants, nearly all next-generation compounds with little known about their potential health effects. "More furniture appears to be treated with flame retardants today than, say, 15 years ago," said Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemist at Duke University and lead author of the project.

Excerpt: Flame retardants in U.S. furniture are on the rise, with a new study finding them in nearly all couches tested.

The findings, published today, confirm that household furniture remains a major source of a variety of flame retardants, some of which have been building up in people’s bodies and in the environment.

In the new tests, three out of every four couches purchased before 2005 contained the chemicals, with a now-banned compound in 39 percent. For newer couches, about 95 percent contained flame retardants, nearly all next-generation compounds with little known about their potential health effects.

"More furniture appears to be treated with flame retardants today than, say, 15 years ago," said Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemist at Duke University and lead author of the project, which also included researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and Boston University.

In a separate study also published today, researchers found that dust in California homes is contaminated with levels of flame retardants that exceed health risk guidelines developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Some of the chemicals have been linked to cancer, altered hormones or neurological effects in lab animals, fetuses and children. Whether there are health risks from many of the newer flame retardants, however, is largely unknown, and most furniture does not carry labels that provide information to consumers.

"I am concerned by the rise in use and diversity of flame retardants on the market because we have very little information on their toxicity and potential effects on the general population, particularly vulnerable subpopulations such as pregnant women and young children," said Ami Zota, who studies flame retardants and reproductive health at the University of California, San Francisco. She did not participate in the new research.

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