Toxic Hot Seat on HBO tonight!

Red sofa

Red sofa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hallelujah! A new film about the struggle to understand and address the hidden poisons in our sofas — Toxic Hot Seat — airs for the first time tonight on HBO. Slate has a preview with a couple tantalizing clips. You can also see it on HBO-Go, the on-demand service.

This is exciting, as it appears it will tell the story the Chicago Tribune first unearthed over a year ago in its epic Playing with Fire series.  In sum, flacks from the chemical industry lied to California lawmakers about the reasons babies were killed in household fires in order to guilt them into maintaining a requirement for toxic flame retardants in furniture. The Trib also unearthed seedy connections to Big Tobacco and ripped the mask off a “fire-safety” front group that had been backed by the chemical manufacturers.

As we now know, we’ve now poisoned a generation or two with these chemicals. One study showed 97 percent of Americans have flame retardant chemicals in their bloodstreams, which are linked to health risks including cancer, infertility, obesity, neurodevelopmental delays and even behavior issues and lowered IQ levels. In a tragically ironic twist, the brave men and women who protect us in fires have been hit particularly hard, and now can face dire health consequences from the exposures to toxic smoke.

The film comes on the heels of an excellent but frightening study published last week by the Center for Environmental Health, Playing on Poisons, that showed that 90 percent of children’s furniture is laced with flame retardant chemicals. Because they crawl around on dusty floors and put things in their mouths, studies show kids have higher levels in their bodies of these chemicals than adults do. Thankfully, even recent action in California to ban one class of flame retardants chemicals produced a precipitous drop in the chemical in pregnant women, as measured in September of this year.

I’m glad the word is getting out. I imagine we’ll see a lot more couches on curbs in the coming days. Parents should also toss those adorable fuzzy pjs (which are often sprayed with the chemicals), and replace them with old cotton clothes or tight-fitting cotton jammies. A full post on that is coming soon. And here’s more information — including tips to avoid flame retardants — from Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.

While it’s true that the California requirement is no longer on the books, many manufacturers will be slow to change their products, and there are state laws in many places requiring any public accommodations to purchase furniture containing flame retardant chemicals, as well as standards that require them in heavy doses in airplanes and children’s car seats. What we really need is chemical reform at the federal level to ensure that chemicals are tested thoroughly before we are all made into the guinea pigs of the chemical industry.

In the meantime, here’s my posts on this for folks new to the issue or blog:

6 thoughts on “Toxic Hot Seat on HBO tonight!

  1. Laura – sorry, I’m very non-techie, so probably posting this in the wrong place :). do you have any advice on a non-toxic kid’s area rug that’s not wool (my kid has super-sensitive skin, can’t play on wool).

    • Non-toxic is a relative term in this area. Cotton looped options may work, though are difficult to find. I have seen them at Target and Crate and Barrel. Cotton is full of pesticides, and so you should wash the smaller ones if you can. You might ask the good folks over at the blog 0 Ecotextiles to see if they have found really non-toxic options, as I don’t know of any.

      • FYI – When industry leads, it pushes the industry and makes more options available for the consumer.

        BNA News: Kaiser Permanente Bars Chemical Flame Retardant Purchases
        Posted June 03, 2014, 2:19 P.M. ET By Pat Rizzuto

        Kaiser Permanente will no longer buy upholstered furniture with chemical flame retardants when it furnishes new medical facilities or remodels the 38 hospitals and more than 600 medical offices it operates in eight states and the District of Columbia, Kathy Gerwig, vice president for environmental stewardship, said June 3.
        Kaiser Permanente spends $30 million a year to furnish its hospitals and offices with chairs, benches, sofas and other furniture. Gerwig said she does not know what portion of that total goes toward upholstered furniture or how long it will take for Kaiser’s facilities to complete their transition to upholstered furniture made without chemical flame retardants.
        Gary Cohen, president of Health Care Without Harm, an international coalition of hospitals and health care systems, labor unions and environmental health organizations, said he anticipates additional institutions that are part of the coalition will announce plans to purchase flame-retardant-free furniture over the next six months.
        Some flame retardants are suspected of being carcinogens and causing developmental problems in children.
        Kaiser Permanente has annual sales valued at $14.8 billion and has 49,000 employees.

  2. I’m appearing as a guest soon on the Dr. Oz show where they will also highlight this very issue. I will keep you posted on the air date and any other details. Testing was performed on my children’s furniture by scientists at a major University and my children and I submitted to a urine test.

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