Most shocking from the piece? This information from a new study on flame retardants in the blood of toddlers (the emphasis is mine):
Most disturbingly, a recent study of toddlers in the United States conducted by researchers at Duke University found flame retardants in the blood of every child they tested. The chemicals are associated with an assortment of health concerns, including antisocial behavior, impaired fertility, decreased birth weight, diabetes, memory loss, undescended testicles, lowered levels of male hormones and hyperthyroidism.
The article talks about the California rule on flame retardants, now under reconsideration in that state. It also notes the need for a federal bill that would better regulate chemical safety, like the Safe Chemicals Act that just got a hearing in the Senate. And it makes clear the problem that new chemicals remain under a shroud of secrecy, under rules that allow the chemical industry to deem them “proprietary” despite being in all of our living rooms:
Logic would suggest that any new chemical used in consumer products be demonstrably safer than a compound it replaces, particularly one taken off the market for reasons related to human health. But of the 84,000 industrial chemicals registered for use in the United States, only about 200 have been evaluated for human safety by the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s because industrial chemicals are presumed safe unless proved otherwise, under the 1976 federal Toxic Substances Control Act.
When evidence begins to mount that a chemical endangers human health, manufacturers tend to withdraw it from the market and replace it with something whose effects — and often its ingredients — are unknown. The makeup of the flame retardant Firemaster 550, for instance, is considered a proprietary trade secret. At a recent conference, Stapleton discussed a small, unpublished study in which she fed female rats low doses of Firemaster 550. The exposed mothers’ offspring gained more weight, demonstrated more anxiety, hit puberty earlier and had abnormal reproductive cycles when compared with unexposed offspring — all signs that the chemical disrupts the endocrine system.
The article also notes how difficult it is to find furniture without chemicals in it, which is certainly the case. In addition to the options I’ve laid out in prior posts, linked to below, I’ve recently found a few new cheaper possibilities:
- First, I found a wonderful mid-century modern chair on Craigslist for a little more than $100 with the original mid-60s upholstery. Since these flame retardant chemicals generally entered furniture after 1975, it’s likely fine, though I didn’t have any testing done. Other wood-framed mid-century pieces, including sofas, could be fitted with custom-made cushions, which I’ve ordered from Etsy for some of our current furniture, or, if you’re crafty, even made by hand.
- Futons are an option– according to a wonderful reader of this blog, SallyS, there are evidently a range of cushion options, including organic. Again, Craigslist may be an option for cheap solid wood frames.
- Also on Craigslist, I scored a 20-year-old Italian-made leather chair for a very reasonable sum. Given its foreign make and age, I’m guessing, again, that this is likely ok. While I realize that very-old-and-foreign-made-and-still-desirable-for-my-sitting-room is likely a small category, I figured it was worth a mention…
If you’re hunting for more options, please check out the posts below as well as the incredibly helpful comments from resourceful readers for some greener manufacturers and other DIY ideas.
More resources on flame retardants and furniture:
- My FAQ on whether your sofa is, sadly, likely to be toxic;
- The Chicago Tribune series detailing the deception of the chemical industry and the risks of flame retardants;
- My sad realization that I had a toxic sofa: Ouch, couch! Sofa Saga, Part One;
- My initial quest for a chemical-free couch that wouldn’t cost the whole house: Sofa Saga Part Two;
- My interview with flame retardants expert Heather Stapleton;
- Some sources I found for safer sofas: Sofa Saga, Part Four;
- About the big fat liars in the chemical industry (linking to Chicago Tribune series); and
- In which I angrily toss my own sofa: Curb Alert, Free (toxic) Sofa.