Flame-retardant chemicals

Kick Cancer-Causing Chemicals Off Your Couch

A California law may expose you to harmful flame-retardant chemicals, whether you live in that state or not.

Kick Cancer-Causing Chemicals Off Your Couch

Are you sure your sofa's safe to sit on?

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Crumbs in your sofa? No big deal. But chemical cancer causers? A new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology reveals that potentially hazardous flame-retardant chemicals required by law in one state are cropping up in upholstered furniture being sold across the country.

THE DETAILS: The researchers collected foam samples from 26 different pieces of furniture purchased in the United States between 2003 and 2009, ranging from pillows and baby strollers to couches and mattress pads. Their goal was to figure out which chemicals were being used to replace the now-banned chemical penta-brominated diphenyl ether, which was voluntarily eliminated from products in 2004 due to concerns over its contribution to thyroid problems, low birth weights, and reproductive abnormalities. In 15 of the foam samples, they detected tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCPP), a chemical that had been removed from children's pajamas in the late 1970s because it was found to affect DNA in such a way that could lead to cancer and other problems. Another four samples were treated with a related chemical called tris(1-chloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TCPP), and one sample contained compounds used in a new product called Firemaster 550, about which there is no available health data. One sample of foam collected from a couch was 5 percent flame retardants by weight, which means that 5 percent of all the stuffing used in that couch wasn't foam, but flame-retardant material.

A second part of the study, conducted in Boston, included collecting household dust from 50 houses and testing it for levels of TDCPP, TCPP, and one of the components of Firemaster 550. TDCPP and the Firemaster 550 chemical were detected in 96 percent of the dust samples. The chemicals wind up in dust as the foam in upholstered furniture breaks down with age.


Published on: November 16, 2009

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If you want a fun but scarey read about fire-retardant chemicals & other exciting stuff that damages your kids brains, try "Slow Death by Rubber Duck" by Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie, pub by Knopf. The chapter on lawn pesticides is especially good.

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