Toxic Furniture Is Scary

Nov 2, 2011
By Beth Gunston

Yes, today is Dia de los Muertos, but that isn't why this couch is covered in skulls.  That couch represents the vast majority of furniture sold in California that contains toxic flame retardants.  So it seems fitting that it is upholstered in skulls – the warning symbol of poisons. 

The scariest fact is that California law – Technical Bulletin 117 – actually requires flame retardants to be used in baby products and furniture that contain foam even though they have never been proven to be effective.  Research conducted by the Green Science Policy Institute has found:

  • According to the National Fire Protection Association, flame retardant use in California has not led to a measurable improvement in fire safety
  • Flame retardants may actually decrease fire safety since they increase the amount of carbon monoxide and toxic gases produced when a product does burn

And it keeps getting more frightening.  The toxic chemicals used known as PBDEs are present in virtually every Californian tested, with babies and young children showing the highest levels.  These chemicals represent enormous potential harm to the development of children and animals.

Halogenated fire retardants, which are the least expensive and most likely chemicals used to comply with TB 117, have been linked to a number of health disorders including:

  • endocrine disruption
  • neurological and developmental impairments
  • cancer
  • birth defects
  • learning disabilities

Baby products commonly containing these toxic chemicals include portable cribs, bassinets, car seats, strollers, playpens, swings, nursing pillows, pregnancy pillows, and high chairs – items that babies and young children have repeated close contact with on a daily basis.  

It seems counterintuitive to try to protect youngsters from one potential threat by exposing them to another known danger.  But that isn’t the concern of the companies that produce the flame retardants and who advocate to keep regulations like TB 117 in place.  These chemical companies are pouring fortunes into lobbying efforts which are favorable to their industry and their bottom lines.

So far legislative efforts to exempt baby furniture from fireproofing have failed to garner the necessary support to become law.  But that doesn’t mean public health and environmental advocates are giving up.  We’ve seen how continuing the battle against industry misinformation and organizing grassroots supporters can eventually overcome even the suave lobbying tactics of big industry.  Just last month we had a major victory here in California with the passage of the Toxin-Free Infants & Toddlers ActAB 1319 – which bans the use of bisphenol-A (BPA) in children’s feeding containers like bottles and sippy cups.  Over five years in the making, environmental and public health advocates fought the whole way against the deep-pocketed chemical industry lobbyists.  And we won.

While we know the issue isn’t dead, we are waiting to see what to expect legislation wise for next year.  In the meantime, if you are looking for ways to reduce your and your family’s exposure to toxic flame retardants, check out a list of tips from Green Science Policy.



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