Sofa Cushion Forts, Kids’ Gear & Toxic Flame Retardants
Indoors in the wintertime, my kids can entertain themselves for hours in the living room, building forts and castles with the foam cushions of our sofa and love seat. There’s lots of jostling and even the occasional, “that is not a trampoline” reaction from me as someone decides to jump again on the furniture!
I’ve cringed at the thought that, while my family cannot afford to replace that furniture now, the cushions inside are likely releasing invisible puffs of toxic flame retardant chemicals into the air. This is not an overprotective mother’s delusion; it’s the reality of what scientists have found in foam furniture soaked with toxic flame retardants suspected of human health dangers. Just look for a California TB 117 tag on your sofa cushions to see if yours likely contains the same toxic chemicals.
They’re suspected in everything from infertility and endocrine disruption to nervous system damage and cancer. One of the most troubling details is that scientists have found toddlers exposed to these chemicals at five times the rate of their mothers.
California has finally updated a rule to let manufacturers voluntarily meet a revised flammability standard without resorting to using flame retardants in the foam (studies showed it didn’t really help with fire safety after all). Yet, there’s no nationwide rule that stops furniture makers from using these chemicals. A newly proposed federal law introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer would finally make it illegal for furniture makers to use the top ten flame retardants suspected of being very hazardous to human health. The law would also require a closer look at all flame retardant chemicals used in household furniture and children’s gear.
In addition to furniture, other examples of products the Schumer bill would help clean up are children’s miniature foam chairs, nap mats, changing pads and high chairs. The Center for Environmental Health has found troubling evidence of toxic flame retardant chemicals in the polyurethane foam of children’s chairs and nap mats. One evidence-based CEH report about children’s furniture is titled Playing on Poisons.
Legislative Director Liz Hitchcock explains at the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition that there are several motivations behind this proposed ban on flame retardants. Besides protecting families, it could also help protect firefighters — a group that has experienced strange rates of certain cancers in recent years. It turns out that science is showing flame retardants not only don’t keep furniture from burning, they make the fumes in burning homes even more dangerous!
A few leading manufacturers have started offering furniture and gear without toxic flame retardants. You often have to pay a premium price. But wouldn’t it be great if you could walk into the most convenient, budget-priced store and find safer products there, too? Who knows, if safer furniture became the standard, maybe we could finally afford to replace that old sofa in the living room!
You can find detailed information about the Senate bill here. You can use this handy contact list to call or email your US Senator to ask for support of this important legislation. It took me less than five minutes to call both of my US Senators and ask for their support of Senate Bill 2811.
While the new bill titled the Children and Firefighters Protection Act is somewhat narrow in scope, it’s a promising step in the right direction toward protecting families and communities from toxic chemicals!