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KILLER COUCHES & Other Parental Fears

By Jackie Burrell
Wednesday, February 27th, 2008 at 12:12 pm in Health & Safety.

Killer couch (ill. by David Terrill, MCT Direct) As if you didn’t have enough to worry about, a new study by the environmental group Friends of the Earth has found worrisome levels of toxic fire retardants in household furniture. Their study is dubbed “Killer Couches” – a bit of hyperbole that makes us instantly wary, because most legitimate scientific research papers have stupefyingly dull titles, like “Pervasive Halogenated Chemicals: Study on the Prevalence of Bioaccumulative Toxins in Domestic Divans.” “Killer Couches” sounds suspiciously like a B-movie from the ’50s. Still, the information may be worth mulling.

Friends of the Earth tested 350 couches, chairs, etc. in the Bay Area and found high levels of toxic halogenated (i.e., contains chlorine or bromine) fire retardants in 67 percent of the furniture in stores and 52 percent of the furniture they tested in homes. They’re extrapolating that to mean that the majority of California’s furniture “contains toxic chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption, and reproductive and neurological dysfunction.”

Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) – whose legislation on the topic just got moved to the “inactive” pile, hence the publicity push –  says there are less toxic ways to fire proof furniture. And notes that one of the fire retardants in question is the same one that was banned from children’s pajamas 30 years ago, yet it’s slathered on furniture we lie on.

The biggest risk seems to be from furniture in which the treated polyurethane foam can degrade and leach dust into the air. If you’re shopping for a new couch, the study recommends buying wooden furniture or furniture whose filling is made of wool, cotton, polyester or down. Or look for furniture whose foam is thickly covered or wrapped to prevent dust leakage. And whether you’re dealing with old furniture or something plushly new, vacuum your home often, and use a HEPA filter.

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