You wouldn’t think that laying your head on your pillow at the end of the day would pose a health risk right? Most of us know that sleep is one of the most important aspects of health. Yet, in the US, many of the materials we use on an everyday basis – such as pillows, furniture, and even children’s pajamas- release toxic chemicals into our environment that accumulate in our bodies.

A decades-old California law, Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117), required manufacturers to saturate foam used in furniture and other household materials with pounds of flame retardant chemicals. This became the default standard for the entire U.S., and consequently most furniture manufactured since 1975 contains hazardous chemicals such as PBDEs and chlorinated Tris (TDCPP). However, studies have shown that the use of flame retardants in this manner provides no meaningful protection against house fires and actually causes fires to become much more toxic due to chemical gases. Inhalation of toxic fumes is the actually most common way that people actually die in house fires.

Despite this clear lack of benefit, we are still exposed to these chemicals which in turn impact our health. A number of studies have revealed the health hazards of exposures to flame retardants, such as impaired neurological development, endocrine disruption, and cancer.

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Although furniture is the primary source of these chemicals, they do not stay put in our homes. When we wash our clothes, for instance, they make their way into our waterways and ecosystems where they cause harm to wildlife as well. Flame retardants are showing up in our oceans, in our food and water supply, and have even been detected in polar bears.

What You Can Do to Minimize Your Exposure

Because these chemicals are so prevalent in our environment, you cannot avoid exposure entirely, and more policy changes are still needed that will take many decades to reach their intended effect. However, you can minimize your exposure to a significant extent. Fortunately, a new California law was just passed on September 30, requiring furniture to carry a new “TB 117-2013” label beginning next year. This label will not guarantee that the product was produced without flame retardants, but it will enable consumers to call the company to verify whether or not the product contains them.

See NRDC’s list below of steps you can take to minimize your exposure:

  • Vacuum carpets with a vacuum that contains a HEPA filter.
  • Damp mop floors and damp dust furniture on a regular basis.
  • Wash hands frequently, especially before eating. Don’t eat on your couch!
  • Use our survey of major furniture stores as a guide to look for flame retardant-free products.
  • Choose naturally flame resistant fabrics and fill such as wool, cotton or jute.
  • Check the label before you buy upholstered furniture — don’t buy furniture that carries a TB 117 label.
  • Look for the TB 117-2013 label and verify with the store that the product does not contain flame retardants.
  • Vacuum and wipe down your car’s interior regularly.
  • Sign the online petition: Take the Toxic Chemicals out of my Couch

Author: Claire Bailey