Curb Alert: Free (Toxic) Sofa

Maya had finally gone down for her nap this afternoon, and I thought it was the perfect time to finally read all of the many articles that the Chicago Tribune published last week on the harms of chemical flame retardants.

I’ve been looking into this issue in a cheeky 4-part “Sofa Saga,” so I’d already skimmed a few of the pieces, but had not really had time to digest the whole series. I was reminded of the power of the investigation by Nicholas Kristof’s excellent column today as well.

So I was reading along, and feeling pretty good about things, actually, given that I hadn’t gotten any of the facts wrong in the blog posts, when I came to this paragraph:

In 2006, researchers at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission cautioned that adding chlorinated tris to furniture would expose children to nearly twice the daily dose deemed acceptable by the federal agency. The cancer risk for children during the first two years of life would be seven times higher than what most physicians, scientists and regulators consider acceptable, according to the safety commission’s report.

Seven times the risk of cancer. Seven. My heart basically stopped for 20 seconds. My stomach rose up and took over my throat.

The sofa I have from Ikea has chlorinated tris in it, according to research by Heather Stapleton. I sat on that couch almost every day of my pregnancy, and my daughter Maya has played on it basically every day of her 20 months of existence. Sometimes, she licks it.

She was “reading” to her stuffed bear just today, sitting there, and here she is at 8 months:

When not sitting on that sofa, I was self-righteously running around town tracking down sources for expensive grassfed, organic beef to get rid of trace amounts of pesticides. Or spending a small fortune on wooden toys.

While sitting on that sofa, I chatted with the New York Times reporter who wrote an article calling me paranoid about toxic chemicals.

While sitting on that sofa filled with literally pounds of carcinogens, I’ve spent hours researching healthier products for my family, including a sofa without flame retardants. They make fools of all of us.

Some lame rationalizations flitted through my mind, while my heart grew heavy and sad. I open the windows sometimes, I thought. We vacuum. I began to feel physically sick.

Fury does not really describe it. I tried to finish the article. But I was sitting on that sofa.

A new, better sofa is eventually on the way, but it’s likely several weeks away at least, and maybe a month.

I thought about sitting on the floor. And then I thought, fine. The floor it is.

I was so angry that I was able single-handedly to put it out on the curb.

Here’s the note I posted to the neighborhood list serv (they already think I’m nuts):

Curb Alert: Free black “leather” large Ikea sofa, decent condition

Here’s my now-typical awkward caveat:

I dumped it because it’s full of a particularly harmful form of flame retardants, called chlorinated tris, that was banned from children’s PJs in the late 1970s as a mutagen — and is also now known to be a potent carcinogen.

I was already following this issue on my blog, but the Chicago Tribune series last week, which I am just reading now, made me actually get up and put it on the curb. I’m furious, actually.

It looks like rain, so if you want it, better come and get it.

Laura

Here’s the thing, Citizens for Fire Safety, you liars, I’m looking at you. And I’m a mom.

If my daughter ever gets sick in any way that can be tied back to her nearly two years of crawling all over this toxic piece of junk, I will personally show up everywhere you try to deceive state legislatures to finish the job of exposing you that was started by the Tribune.

And hey, chemical manufacturers, like the flame retardant chemical makers — Albemarle, ICL Industrial Products and Chemtura (“Chemtura”? Really?) — I’m telling you now, you have a problem that a little chemical switcherooni is not about to fix.

I’m done letting you be the only ones who know what’s in my house, and in our air, and in my daughter’s blood. What’s in our bodies can’t be your proprietary little stew of hazards. You want to keep it proprietary? Keep it out of my house.

I’m really over this experimentation on all of us. I’m so over learning two years down the road that, despite my best efforts, you’ve been poisoning my daughter, lying to lawmakers, and laughing all the way to the bank.

You’ve messed with the wrong mom. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. You’d better hope that lawmakers in California get to you first.

49 thoughts on “Curb Alert: Free (Toxic) Sofa

  1. Hi! I just wanted to say you are NOT alone! We are black sheep in our family… We sleep on tatami mats, 100% chemical free organic cotton/wool futons mattresses and at the moment sit on floor pillows because we are saving money to buy a $$$$ chemical free sofa. People think we are weird but I really could care less. I feel bad for all the kiddies who’s mom and dad’s read your blog and DON’T put their sofa on the curb.

    God bless and keep blogging!!!

  2. Finally got the non-toxic couch although ironically, it does not fit properly in our new space so though it is healthy, I wish I could sell it and start over again. Just might. But, in the meantime, I bought a hardwood, hand carved wooden frame for ottoman and want to make the cushion ourselves. Got the wood base, got the fabric, but WHAT do I use to stuff it with? Order non-toxic latex foam is prohibitive as you know. What else can I use to get a firm, flattish cushion for large ottoman? Thanks Ann

  3. Pingback: My Lovely Green Flame Retardant Free Couch | greenwake

  4. Ahhhh I feel the same way!!!! I need a new couch and can’t spend $5,000. What did you end up getting? I will say a prayer that your daughter and my kids and all the other kids exposed to this chemical never get sick from it.

    Thanks for your passion!

    Nicole

      • Thanks so much Laura:) i reslly appreciste all the research upu have done. I’m going to call Robert. Hopefully I can get a good deal and finally have a couch I feel good about sitting on!

        Nicole

  5. Pingback: Sofa Saga, Part 5: A Happy Place to Sit | Laura's "Rules"

  6. Thanks for all your info on toxic furniture. We just ordered a whole bunch of stuff from a furniture chain, and turns out it’s all full of TDCP and/or other toxic flame retardants, so I’ve been looking for alternatives and it’s sooooo hard to find anything that isn’t. However, I did eventually stumble onto this website http://www.sofa.com/ that offers sofas, chairs & ottomans without flame retardants. It’s a British company that has the furniture made in Poland. Went to the showroom and their stuff is not bad, if you’re into English cottage style. Supposedly the cushions are made up of a foam core (without flame retardants) surrounded by feathers. Still a bit pricey, but not nearly as bad as the “organic” furniture I’ve seen.

      • Hi Laura! In response to all of the recent media hype on this issue, I started doing my own research and stumbled onto your blog. It’s fantastic, by the way! I followed up with the Sofa furniture company identified above, and the representative informed me that they use chlorinated Tris in their foam! True, they abide by UK manufacturing standards, which I assumed would be superior to those in the US, but alas! I was so disappointed. It’s almost impossible to find AFFORDABLE non-toxic couch options. The search continues….

      • Thanks for the compliment! You may want to check out the options in Sofa Saga: Part 4 — Ecoselect, in particular, is the most affordable. Hope that helps!

  7. Hello I’m a 35 year old guy with no kids. I would just like to say, this blog was very helpful for me. I don’t want chemicals either. Luckily I sold my old couch when getting a new apartment where it wouldn’t fit in the door. Now, however, I’m still sitting in uncomfortable wooden chairs and on the floor while I watch movies on tv (I don’t have cable). I hope to get this figured out soon, but my solution in the meantime is to invest in a good table and not sit in front of the tv I guess. How about just a big giant 10 inch cushion on the floor? What would I want it made of and stuffed with? I guess that is sort of like a futon mattress. My aunt can sew like the wind, but we aren’t woodworkers so no couch-ish frame for now.

    • Of course you don’t want chemicals! I know the emphasis here is very much about children, but obviously all of these concerns apply equally to all of us adults who’d like to lead our lives free of chemically-induced health issues, which is basically all of us. There are some sources for lower priced options in the “sofa saga” series on this blog — namely, parts 2 and 4. And be sure to check out the comments for more ideas. There is also — in sofa saga part 4 — a link to how to make your own from a mattress more cheaply, but you’d have to be a bit handy. Hope this helps and welcome to the blog! All best, Laura

  8. Hi Laura,
    I am so happy to have found your blog!! I have been on a mission as well and I tend to contact manufacturers as well to find out what is in the products usually after the fact. I was curious if you had contacted Serta? They claim not to use chemical flame retardants and say many of their fabrics are Oeko Tex certified. Also, I contacted a local furniture retailer in CO and they sent me the following furniture manufacturers who don’t meet TB 117 and I was going to look into them(Marco,Zoy,Mel, & Meng). I am hoping maybe one of them might be viable option for a safer, affordable sofa. I do think contacting companies is important. I would love to see an organized effort of moms contacting targeted companies and retailers about different areas of concern. I get so overwhelmed and upset that I have exposed my children and want to do more to help make things safer for everyone. I figure if I keep calling and emailing my effort plus other concerned moms will cause companies and things to change….the squeaky wheel gets the grease! Thank you!

    • Hi Jenny! Welcome to the blog! I have not been in touch with Serta or those other companies — would love to know what you find out!!! And I certainly agree about the squeaky wheel. That’s the only way things change, really. All best,
      Laura

  9. Hello Laura,
    I hope you got your couch by now? I also ordered one from RC green and am anxious to get my newish IKEA one outta here! Do you like your couch?

    The mattress saga is a a sad story like your couch. I ended up with a European Sleepworks mattress that is Oeko-tex certified and use natural wool as a flamer retardant(i hope). I am pretty disappointed with the nontoxicbeds. After, reading more on your site and learning that a soy based mattress is not organic or all natural I called and asked the company a few questions about the soy based foam. They told me it was ‘toy’ grade and safe to eat being 44% soy. However, the rest is polyurethane foam. In my research I learned in the U.S. that it can only be at most 22% soy because it does not mold being all soy. I think I would have been a lot happier if the company did not say it was “all natural” and explained the soy foam. I decided that I am ok with polyurethane in my couch double wrapped in cotton, but not in my bed were i spend so much time. The company turned very unfriendly and we had long pauses of silence on the phone. My bed had not shipped yet and nontoxicbeds quickly agreed to cancel my order without even a fight! However it is almost two weeks later and still no refund on my card. sigh….

    Just thought I would share. I want only one thing in life. No toxic chemicals in my stuff!!! or at least the option to choose if I want it. I wish more people were upset about this issue effecting us all in ways we don’t even realize yet. It’s hard that a lot of friends/family don’t want to hear it or think I am over exaggerating. More people should be angry that this is happening with our food, air, products. I know I am.

    Thanks for your blog again. I am learning new stuff everyday and trying my best to transition my toxic stuff into safer alternatives. Please let me know about your couch. 🙂

    • Hello Laura,
      You can leave this post as private if you like. I am just a bit worried about the couch. Robert was great to work with at first, but now I have not heard from him at all. I would love to know if you received your couch and if everything went well or what issues you might have had etc.. or if you still don’t have it. Thank you!

      • Hi Heather,

        Hmmm. I have not gotten my couch yet, but they have said they will send pics this week of the frame being made to post on the blog. If you’re concerned, you should call and speak to Vik. Obviously, if there are any issues, I would like to know as there are many people clicking through on the blog to that site. Please keep me posted! Laura

  10. I was looking to buy a new couch that was free from toxic stuff, but the only ones I found were going to cost me over 5000 bucks. So I was wondering if it would be better to find an old couch and have it reupholstered with non flame retardant fabric. Am I right that the law for flame retardants for couches was 2007? Is this a dumb idea? Please advise.

    • Hi there! If the fabric is treated with flame retardants, or with “stain resistance” chemicals, replacing it could help a little. But it won’t solve the problem, as we now know that it’s also the chemicals — pounds of it– in the foam that break down over time and get into household dust. There are a few more afforable options that I found in researching this– several are described in sofa saga parts 2 & 4 on this blog. You may also want to check out the comments on part 4 for an interesting bit of additional information. Eco-select is by far the most afforable option I found, though he uses soy foam which is not as green or healthy as some of the higher priced green sofa options. Hope that helps!

  11. I’m a teacher and mom of 2. I was thinking of getting a new couch – and had heard about the fire retardants so I thought I would do a little research. A little research turned into staying up half the night – some with research and the rest with sick worry. I don’t have time to read everything – so forgive me if I missed this – How did you know/find out that your couch had Chlorinate Tris?

    I bought organic mattresses, but they have foam. I was promised that they didn’t have PBDEs but I didn’t know to ask about other chemicals.

    • I’ve had many of those late night link-fests myself, of course! I know exactly what you mean! It’s explained back in the 1st of the “sofa saga” series — but there’s too much to read! Basically, the whole reason I got an Ikea sofa in the first place was because the environmental health reading I’d done indicated that researchers (like Heather Stapleton, who I interviewed in Part 3) on flame retardants thought that Ikea stuff was free of PBDEs. Well, it was, but the same Heather Stapleton did a “couch biopsy” — literally taking chunks of couches to analyze — and figured out that it was Tris instead (TDCPP, actually, as there are several kinds — TDCPP was just put on California’s warning list for Prop 65, and was banned from kid’s Pjs in the 1970s for being a mutagen). But without specific testing, the companies all claim that what’s in the foam is “proprietary” — give me a break. I can’t see how poison is proprietary, and I’m guessing you can’t either. In terms of the mattresses, they probably do not have any chemical flame retardants, as I gather that mattress makers, and especially organic ones, use barriers, including wool, to achieve flame resistance, and that in part that’s because chemicals are not effective enough for the mattress standards. That’s also explained in the Chicago Tribune series from last week, somewhere. No harm in asking the company where you bought it what they use, though, just to put your mind at ease.
      Hope this helps! All best,
      Laura

      • Thank you so much!!
        I found a site that might interest people – Hidden Hazards in the Nursery (WA ste Toxin Coaliation). I read the research that the arm’s reach co-sleeper that my babies slept in had huge amounts of c.tris and others chemicals in them. (Oh – I fear another night of no sleep after reading that one).

        The site also has summaries of toxic substance and how to avoid them.

  12. I am so happy to hear someone talking about this. I started learning about it in class on finals week and could not even focus. It is disturbing that all our furniture, including bed is making us ill. I think about the couch I bought from ikea right after my son was born and how we have played on it everyday. The worst part for me is I have no one to talk about this to. I have been banging my head against a wall trying to figure out how to make my home just a little more safer for my son and my family and friends think I am crazy. I have done so much research to know that I am not, but I feel alone in this knowledge. Thank you for fighting back and thank you for writing about it!! I have already signed the bill to ban the flame retardants and I want to do SO much more!! I also want to be able to afford a new couch!! so frustrating AND sad… I am going to look into your couch guy. Found a great company for a new mattress!

    • I know! It’s hard to feel like it’s just you against the world… but we’re all in this together, really, and there’s more of us than there are them. We just have to stick together and find ways to take the power back from them. Please let us all know about your experience with the new mattress — and share a link if warranted. Keep your chin up! All best, Laura

      • Well the mattresses I feel are more difficult to get because in order to get one without flame retardants you need a prescription. The few ways around it are to b only using wool. uy a mattress that has a flame retardant cover you can un-zip and take of and replace with a new cover or you can buy it in layers and buy a cover of your own choosing. This is what I did because it is a lot cheaper. I found a company who is making it. It is by Strobel. The have mattress on Sears if you do a search. Mr. Strobel is actually one of the main people that tried to fight the new flame retardant law back in 2005. He has a ton of info on his site explaining how it all works. The company has been great to work with and has answered all of my questions without any hesitation. The website is http://www.nontoxicbeds.com. I actually tried to go to some local organic places like sleepworks.com, but they could not tell me exactly how they pass the new 60 second open flame test with

      • Thanks for explaining. How interesting! So did your research reveal that mattress companies are also using chemical flame retardants, or were you worried about the layers of whatever they are using instead?

      • sorry my last post came out weird. I think the blog was having an issue… So far , from my research I have discovered most mattresses use flame retardants and because of a law passed they do not have to disclose that info. Furthermore, many ‘organic” places are not organic because the wool they use does not pass the flame test alone. It is really hard to figure this stuff out though and I have been using my school database and peer reviewed journals, but I cannot find out how they could pass if they are only using wool. So, i am leaning towards some sort of flame retardant even in the organic companies. I am frustrated and hope that some of the bills pending on these issues go through. At least so they have to disclose what chemicals they are using. I am pretty sure the place I got my mattress is good. I hope!!

      • Wow, that’s more exacting information by far than what is out there. Thanks so much — and if you ever want to draft a guest blog post on what you’ve found, you’d be most welcome to! I’m fascinated.

      • I would love to! I am still researching on some of the facts etc… I have more work to do. I also cannot wait for the new mattress arrives, so that I can see for myself that it is possible to buy an affordable non-toxic mattress. I also have been searching the internet for truly non-toxic items for my sons room. such as rugs with no flame retardants and drapes. Very hard to find! We should, if your interested start a list of places to buy these items. Not just organic, or eco friendly list, but truly safe products!

      • I’d love to publish a piece with links to all those resources — I think these big decorating items are often the toughest and most expensive to track down! We could definitely add any great sources to the blogroll here, or to another page we keep adding to…
        Cheers!

    • I should have read your blog more in-depth. I was reading about soy based memory foam. It is only 5-20% soy based and the rest is polyurethane? I am wondering about my mattress now because it has some soy based memory foam in it. What are your thoughts? What did you decide to have your couch made of after all?

      • I’m still on the fence. I’ve asked Heather Stapleton and some other folks about the cancer or other health risks of PU foam, and am waiting to hear what they say, as I haven’t been able to find much on it. 0 Ecotextiles is certainly right that the core materials for PU foam are suspect chemicals, so… how to weigh that off against comfort is a hard call.

      • Can’t wait to hear what Heather Stapleton or others you contacted, have to say. Wow! so hard to get a bed. I also have learned that Oeko-tex does do all the certifying for chemical free products, however I have found a few sites that say, “Biologically active agents and flame retardant products are regulated separately”. I wonder what that means!!

  13. Thank you for your voice and speaking out on these important issues. I have tried so hard for the last ten years to get all the toxins out of my home: I buy organic, cook from scratch, use only glass containers to store my food, use non-voc paint, make my own toothpaste and deodorant, etc. But, I too am sitting here on what I am now realizing is a toxic laden upholstered dining chair from Ikea. In the next room is my two year old toxic Ikea couch, and pottery barn loveseat.

    In originally researching the purchase of my couch, I had read on other sites that Ikea utilized flame retardants that were less toxic. The info that I had read on their site lead me to believe that as well. It just makes me so mad. It should not be this hard to protect your family. I believe in voting with my purchases, but when there are no affordable options available to the average working family, it is just so frustrating.

    And what about the flame retardants in mattresses? We just purchased the “natural latex” mattress that Ikea sells, thinking it was a safer option, as $3,000 to $4,000 is not in the budget for a truly safe organic mattress. But, it is probably loaded with this chlorinated tris poison.

    • It’s infuriating, isn’t it?? Yes, there was widespread information, still on some Web sites, actually, that Ikea was safer. Argh. We should write them and complain as well. They benefited from our ignorance by being the go-to place for greener options, and never told us they were selling us poison. (A lot of their stuff is terrible, actually, full of off-gassing pressboard and the like, and the shopping experience is miserable, IMHO.)

      On mattresses, I would ask Ikea, as its impossible to know for sure unless they tell you what’s in something. However, most of the Web research I’ve done (and in the Tribune pieces they mention this, actually) indicates that flame resistance in mattresses is done by layering materials, rather than with chemicals.

      On the “natural latex” issue, I’m also skeptical about additives to latex to give it shape and form. The comments section on the Sofa Saga 4 post contains a bunch of information from a textiles blogger who much prefers latex for number of thoughtful reasons. Her blog (0 Ecotextiles) may have more on what’s in latex exactly.

      Also, just fyi, I have found some organic, wool and latex mattresses for around $2,000, which is still expensive. Here’s one, which I have not personally used: http://www.homegreenhome.com/organic-mattresses.shtml

      All best,
      Laura

    • I wish it was easy to do so! There are bunch of suppliers and sources in the “sofa saga” posts here — but most are very expensive, to be sure. As you shop in the future, and need to make replacements for items, that’s a good time to think about upgrading to greener items. Thanks so much for commenting and your support!

  14. Hi Laura! Thanks for bringing this to everyone’s attention. I think IKEA is a mainstay for many new parents who don’t want to invest in “nice” furniture while their kids are little. Scary stuff. Have you considered starting a campaign on Change.org?

    Elizabeth (that random mom you met at Waynewood a few weeks ago)

  15. I share your concern and anger, I am tired of being violated by the chemical companies and the lawmakers that allow them to poison my child. I try my best to do what I can to purchase “clean” products (I would say green, but that doesn’t hold much water these days with all of the green washing) for my girl when I can.
    It makes me sad and angry that I have to spend so much time researching what is safe for me to bring into our home, I should be spending that time with my daughter, not playing detective.

  16. Laura, I’m totally with you. I’m absolutely fed up and I want to not only reverse the laws – the laws say the furniture needs to meet a certain level of fire resistence, but I think we should make this stuff illegal. I believe the current laws are state by state.
    Do you have suggestions about what to do next? I’m going to write my state legislators and ask them what we can do, but I’m looking for more ideas!

    • Thanks so much for sharing my sense of violation and outrage! I agree, we need more protective laws. Writing and calling your state and Congressional lawmakers is a good step, as is joining a group working on this issue, like Moms Rising, or Healthy Child, Healthy World. In addition, using social media to spread the word with your contacts and friends actually does raise awareness and build support for change. Sen. Durbin called on EPA and CPSC to regulate this stuff, so let’s see if we can make it an issue in the Presidential election. Last, trying to vote with your dollars next time you need to replace furniture is huge step, as companies really understand the language of dollars and cents. And I’ll post soon on one more idea up my sleeve… all best, Laura

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