Update on Flame Retardants in Furniture

A lot has changed since I bought my flame retardant free couch two years ago. (Policy-wise, that is. My couch is still awesome.) America has made unprecedented improvements in embracing science over the garbage spewed by the $-motivated chemical industry, both via policy and changes made by manufacturers. I think it is safe to say that chemical flame retardants in upholstered furniture are on their way out. 

First, California recently passed a law that requires furniture makers to indicate on the label whether chemical flame retardants are added as of Jan 1, 2015. You might remember that California started the whole chemical flame retardants in furniture trend with the TB 117 regulation, and that it became a national de facto standard because manufacturers didn’t want to make a separate product for California. Hopefully, this labeling requirement, which will make your couch shopping so much easier, will also effectively become a national standard. TB 117 was also modified in 2013 (label will read TB 117-2013) to allow foam furniture to pass the flammability standard without added chemicals; the presence of this label on furniture does not guarantee the absence of chemical flame retardants, but the new yes/no label will. 

Additionally, many big name furniture manufacturers have announced that they are phasing out chemical flame retardants in some or all of their products:

  • Room and Board : All sofas free of chemical flame retardants as of July, 2014 
  • Ikea : No chemical flame retardants used in manufacturing as of Jan. 1, 2015. 2014 stock will still contain FRs.
  • Crate and Barrel : As of Jan. 1, 2015  
  • West Elm : As of Jan. 1, 2015 
  • Pottery Bard : As of Jan. 1, 2015 
  • Design Within Reach : select models
  • Lay-Z-Boy 
  • The Futon Shop 
  • Dania 
  • Scandinavian designs 
  • Wal-Mart
  • Ashley Furniture 
  • Ethan Allen 
  • Restoration Hardware
  • Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams 

Sources for this store list: here and here. There may be more companies; if you come across any, let me know!

Lastly, here you can find a list of companies selling flame retardant free office furniture.

When shopping for a new sofa or other upholstered furniture, don’t forget to check the labels and call the company to make sure no chemical flame retardants are present. 

You can read more about chemical flame retardants and how to avoid ingesting them if you aren’t shopping for new furniture at the National Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Working Group

 

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Twelve Endocrine Disruptors to Avoid

Yesterday, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a “dirty dozen” list of endocrine disruptors to avoid, similar to their dirty dozen list of produce to buy organic.

Endocrine disruptors, quite simply, are chemicals that interfere with hormones in the body. They’re particularly scary because very small amounts can have very big effects, particularly during development.  

You and I don’t have unlimited time to investigate every single ingredient in our shampoo, so it is great to have a list like this to know what to look for, just like we know to buy strawberries and apples organic but not worry too much about avocados.

Most of the endocrine disruptors on the list are names you will recognize, big baddies like lead and dioxin, but some you may not recognize by name.  The list describes in plain English what is so bad about these chemicals and gives suggestions for avoiding them; most enter our body either through food or water.  It’s definitely worth taking a look at. Continue reading

My Lovely Green Flame Retardant Free Couch

Our wireless is down right now at home.  The internet that magically comes out of the modem still works, so it isn’t Comcast’s fault (for once!) but my cheap-o refurbished router seems to have kicked the bucket in the middle of a streaming a James Bond movie.  Sad, because we didn’t get to finish the movie, but actually not so sad at all because we’re finding the lack of wireless to be quite refreshing.

In my daily perusal of The Kitchn this morning, I spotted this little piece on a family who has decided to ditch all technology pre-1986.  This is pretty extreme, but I get it.  I don’t like how America’s tendency is to come home from school or work and immediately flip on the TV or browse the depths of the internet (keep me away from the food blogs) for hours instead of doing something, anything.

In our living room, we have a couch, but no TV. (It’s in the bedroom, not hooked up to anything, not even Netflix.) How many American families do you think have a living room that isn’t arranged around the TV? We’re probably one of the few.

I like to sit on my couch and read or even just look out the window. It’s the first couch I have ever owned and I plan to keep it for a long time, so I took great care to find an affordable one that wasn’t going to poison me.

That’s right, toxic chemicals!

A year ago, flame retardants (FRs) were all over the news. The crusade against flame retardants, chemicals put in furniture to slow fires, was led by environmental health scientist Arlene Blum.  Her research in the 1970s contributed to the ban of carcinogenic flame retardants such as the molecule brominated tris in children’s pajama fabric. The tris family of flame retardants didn’t just go away though; they continued to be used in couches, notably by Ikea until quite recently.

TDCPP, or chlorinated tris. Yum.

Since the 1970s, Blum has continued to study flame retardants. She found FRs in 85% of couches purchased in America between 1985 and 2010, mostly polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and halogenated organophosphates such as TDCPP, a relative of the tris from the 70s. Scientists have known for a long time that these chemicals cause cancer.  Some PBDEs were even banned in 2005 because they mimic the thyroid hormone in the human body and bioaccumulate.  These chemicals are persistent, resisting breakdown in the environment, and so are the couches that are filled with them. Continue reading

A Chemist’s Response to “How Junk Food Can End Obesity”

This post is for Steph, who wanted to know what I though about the Atlantic’s July/Aug cover article. 

Last March, my mother was oh so excited that McDonalds’ Shamrock Shakes were back, but I spoiled her fast food party plans with this info graphic on the ingredients in one of those processed premixed cup-full-of-chemicals.

Just look at this image, and you will never want one again, not because of the calories, carbs, fat, and sugar, but because of all that other crap in there too. I prefer my milkshakes made with good old ice cream and milk, hold the polysorbate 80 please.

As an environmental chemist and foodie, I have a lot to say about David H. Freedman’s Atlantic piece “How Junk Food Can End Obesity.”  His main argument is that we can solve the obesity crisis in America by putting pressure on the fast and processed food industry to be healthier, rather than shunning it altogether.  The nineteen page article also devotes a significant amount of space to disparaging the grassroots real food movement and getting the science of common food additives disturbingly wrong. Continue reading