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Macy’s to stop selling furniture with toxic flame retardant chemicals

— Retailer Takes Step on Eve of National Mind the Store Action Day —

***UPDATE: As of November 2018, Macy’s has not publicly reported on progress in implementing this initiative. Partly because of that, the company was awarded an F in our third annual Who’s Minding the Store? retailer report card. See for more details.***

Just hours before planned events at Macy’s stores in ten states calling attention to the retailer’s sale of some furniture products containing toxic flame retardant chemicals, the retailer announced it would end the practice. Mind the Store campaign advocates hailed it as a victory for consumers’ health and the environment.

“We thank and congratulate Macy’s for taking this big step to make all sofas safe.  This is an important victory for our Mind the Store campaign and millions of Macy’s customers nationwide.” said Mike Schade, Mind the Store campaign director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.We urge the remaining major retailers who have not acted, like Pier 1 Imports, to follow suit and phase out these unnecessary toxic chemicals once and for all.”

Concerned parents and health advocates had asked Macy’s to commit to adopting a policy eliminating the toxic chemicals in furniture by this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. They had planned a national “day of action” today at Macy’s Herald Square and other stores around the country. Over the past two weeks, Macy’s had received thousands of e-mails from customers encouraging them to address the harmful chemicals.  Macy’s responded to Mind the Store yesterday, saying in part, “We expect that our suppliers (the manufacturers of furniture sold at Macy’s) are no longer using the chemicals in question, and we believe a majority are already in compliance… We will be instructing any remaining suppliers who are using these chemicals to cease doing so…If we do identify a vendor that is still applying the old flame retardants, we will be requiring them to cease doing so immediately.”

Numerous competing retailers like IKEA, Walmart, and Ashley have already announced that they are phasing out toxic flame retardants in furniture. Some chains like Pier 1 Imports, Rooms to Go, and Berkshire Hathaway’s furniture stores have not yet made announcements.

For years, the vast majority of couches and upholstered furniture across the U.S. contained high levels of toxic flame retardant chemicals. Since 1975, furniture foam sold across the U.S. has been laden with these substances to meet the standards of a California “technical bulletin” called TB117. Despite being called “flame retardants,” research by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and other groups has found that these chemicals are not necessary to ensure that furniture is fire safe.

Recent changes to the California flammability standard now provide better fire safety without the use of these toxic chemicals. The new standard, which became mandatory as of January 1, 2015, can be met without the addition of flame retardant chemicals. It does not prevent the use of toxic flame retardants, however, so they may still be used in furniture foam. In response to the changes to the standard, many leading furniture manufacturers and retailers have eliminated the chemicals in upholstered furniture.

In daily use, toxic flame retardants do not stay in the furniture. They migrate out of the products and collect in indoor dust where they enter people’s bodies by being inhaled, ingested, and touched. Some toxic flame retardants do not break down easily, and have been found to persist and travel to waterways and ecosystems virtually everywhere. Studies show that more than 90 percent of American women of childbearing age have toxic flame retardants in their bodies. In a fire, firefighters are exposed to these harmful chemicals and the highly toxic byproducts that result when they burn.

“Carefully executed long-term studies of prenatal exposure to flame retardants have consistently documented lower IQ scores among the most highly exposed,” said Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, associate professor of pediatrics, NYU School of Medicine. “Given that children with lower IQs have lower lifetime economic productivity, efforts by major retailers to remove flame retardants not only protect children’s brains but our economy as well.”

Today’s events were to be held by local groups in partnership with the national Mind the Store campaign, a project of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. The national “day of action” preceded an online petition and a formal letter to Macy’s from the campaign. Macy’s is the tenth largest retailer of furniture and bedding in the U.S. and sold an estimated $1.2 billion of furniture and bedding in 2013, according to Furniture Today magazine. While not all Macy’s furniture contains toxic flame retardants, health advocates were asking Macy’s to work with its suppliers to completely phase out these unnecessary dangerous chemicals.

The Mind the Store campaign is challenging major U.S. retailers to adopt policies to identify, restrict, and safely substitute the Hazardous 100+ chemicals in common consumer products.