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TOXIC CHEMICALS IN FURNITURE

After a major victory was claimed over two years ago to remove chemical flame retardants from manufactured furniture, a recent study from Duke University, and in partnership with the Environmental Working Group (EWG), showed that people are still exposed to different levels of chemical flame retardants in their furniture, depending on what state they live in.

The study showed from a group of volunteers that women and children showed higher levels of chemical flame-retardants in California than those found in a similar study in New Jersey. One of its conclusions showed chemical exposures were twice as high in California as compared to New Jersey.

In January, 2014, California changed its flammability requirements. Theoretically, this allowed upholstery to be sold in California that does not have flame retardant chemicals added. The new focus was on testing smoldering sources of flammability in cover fabrics, barrier materials and the covers under the cushions and on top of the base springs.

Furniture Today, an industry newspaper, published a robust article by Cindy W, Hodnett entitled, “Industry Reacts to New California Fammability Standards.” Several people in the furniture space are quoted—including Roy Calcagne, President of the upholstery source, Craft-master Furniture. Calcagne said, "We will comply with the new requirements as mandated by law. I think the fewer chemicals, the better."

Unsurprisingly, there was substantial push back against the new standards from the American Chemical Council’s North American Flame Retardant Alliance. They put out a statement opposing the revisions stating, “Families in California should have serious concerns that state officials are lowering the fire standards and removing an important layer of fire protection that has benefitted Californians for more than 35 years.”

In opposition to their opinion is Dr. Arlene Blum, a major figure in the documentary “Toxic Hot Seat” that aired on HBO. The woman who got deadly chemicals out of children’s sleepwear, Blum emphasized, “It astounds me that the chemical companies are still claiming there is no health benefit to removing these chemicals.”

After the 2014 ruling, and because California commands such a large market share based on the size of its population, the theory was manufacturers would fall in-line quickly to remove the chemicals to not have to produce two product lines, thereby meeting the new California standard across all lines. But, the industry also acknowledged it may take several years, perhaps a decade or longer, for chemical-flame retardants to completely “disappear” from the furniture market.

In response, many large manufacturers have announced these toxins are removed from their furniture, but it does not prevent them from using other toxic chemicals, like formaldehydes that are commonly used in wood glues, and other unregulated chemicals used in treated and pressed wood frames, fabrics, hides, faux hides (“pleather”), dyes and cushions.

A prudent consumer needs to be educated and proactive about learning who and what is “behind” the furniture making process. Just because it’s labeled to meet new chemical standards, does not mean it’s “chemical free.”

Written by: Eco Select Furniture


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