MAR 24, 2021 2:16 PM PDT

What toxic chemicals are lurking in your couch?

New research published in the journal Environment International suggests a weekend trip to the nearest furniture store. According to the findings from a study from Silent Spring Institute, old couches with flame retardants pose a serious threat of exposure to toxic chemicals, especially for children.

The study investigated the levels of harmful chemicals found in household dust, determining that these levels could be significantly reduced by replacing an old couch or refurbishing the foam inside the cushions. That’s because flame retardants, which are chemicals that are applied to furniture to slow a fire, easily enter the air inside a home and mingle with the dust, which we inhale all day, every day (nobody can deny spending more time this year on their couches than ever before).

"We've long suspected that couches are a major source of toxic chemicals in dust. Now, for the first time, we have evidence demonstrating the positive impacts of replacing old furniture containing flame retardants," says lead author Kathryn Rodgers, who is a research scientist at Silent Spring Institute.

Exposure to these chemicals has been associated with cancer, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, lower IQ, as well as a host of other adverse health effects. People who spend more time on the floor, putting their hands in their mouths (i.e. children, and the occasional bored adult) are even more at risk, say the researchers.

The researchers recommend switching out your couch if it was made before 2014. That’s because new standards were put in place about the requirements for flame retardants following that year. The standard is called TB1170-2013.

"For decades, our population has been needlessly exposed to harmful flame retardants from their furniture as a result of an outdated flammability standard that provided no fire safety benefit," says co-author Arlene Blum, executive director of Green Science Policy Institute. "This study confirms that the new standard reduces exposure to toxic flame retardants in our homes. This is a win-win for public health and also fire safety."

The Silent Spring researchers hope that their findings will call attention toward the continual use of flame retardants in other consumer products, such as TV cases and insulation. "The findings from the new study should spur state and federal policymakers to reduce other harmful and ineffective uses of flame retardants in other items such as television cases and building insulation," says Blum.

The researchers add that if swapping out your old couch isn’t an option for you right now, consider changing out the foam in the cushions for foam without flame retardants. Minimizing dust in the home can also keep these chemicals at bay.

Sources: Environment International, Eureka Alert

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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