Several of the nation’s largest retailers have eliminated or begun phasing out furniture with chemicals known as toxic flame retardants, which have been linked to cancer and learning and developmental disabilities in children.

For years, public health advocates and firefighters have said the chemicals threatened human health and the environment, and did not provide added fire safety benefit as claimed by the chemical industry. The nation’s largest furniture retailer and manufacturer, Ashley Furniture, for example, has announced it will be phasing out such products, but declined to publicly say when. Ashley Furniture Home Stores are throughout Washington.

Laurie Valeriano, Executive Director of the Washington Toxics Coalition said:

“With today’s news from Ashley Furniture, Washington Toxics Coalition, with our partners including firefighters, health care professionals, the faith community and developmental disability rights advocates, is hopeful our state legislature will move forward this year to finally pass House Bill 1174, the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act, which bans these chemicals in children’s products and furniture and prevents manufacturers from using other toxic flame retardants in the future.”

“While this announcement from Ashley is certainly welcome, it does not ensure toxic flame retardants will not be used in furniture,” continued Valeriano, “Parents, firefighters, and health care professionals want certainty that toxic flame retardants won’t be used in furniture or children’s products and the only way to accomplish this is with a ban.”

Ashley is not the only furniture company moving in this direction. Today the Chicago Tribune reported that major furniture retailers including Crate and Barrel, Room and Board, Williams-Sonoma (Pottery Barn, West Elm) have mostly eliminated chemicals known as toxic flame retardants from their furniture. They also reported that the Futon Shop, Scandinavian Designs and Walmart “have told vendors to stop adding flame retardants to furniture” and that Ashley Furniture, the largest furniture retailer and manufacturer in America, is “committed to designing furniture … without the use of flame retardant chemicals.”

The House Environment Committee in Olympia recently heard from firefighters, doctors, nurses, scientists and parents all concerned about the long-term health impacts from exposure to toxic flame retardants in a hearing on HB 1174, the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act.

The bill passed last year with strong bipartisan vote of 72-25. With both Democratic and Republican sponsors of the bill this year, there is more hope for delivering the bill to the Governor’s desk.

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