Seattle, WA –Most couches contain high levels of untested or toxic flame retardants linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and other health effects, according to a new peer-reviewed study appearing today in Environmental Science and Technology. Health advocates are urging state legislators to pass the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act, a bill that would phase out the use of toxic flame retardants in couches and children’s products and move product manufacturers to safer alternatives.

“Sitting on a couch shouldn’t be hazardous to your health. Children and families are exposed to these chemical flame retardants when they escape from household items and contaminate house dust and indoor air,” said Erika Schreder, science director for the Washington Toxics Coalition. “Young children have especially high exposure to flame retardants because of the time they spend playing on the floor and their greater hand-to-mouth behavior.”

The study tested foam samples from 102 couches around the nation, including 4 from Washington state.  Major findings include:

  • 85% of couches contained toxic or untested flame retardants.
  • 52% of couches purchased after 2004 contained the cancer-causing flame retardant chlorinated Tris, a chemical that was voluntarily removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s when it was found to cause adverse health effects. This study provides evidence that chlorinated Tris has been widely used as a replacement for PBDE flame retardants, which the chemical industry voluntarily phased out in 2004.
  • 94% of couches purchased after 2004 contained chemical flame retardants, indicating use of these chemicals by furniture manufacturers is increasing.

Washington state Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-Maury Island) and Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (D- Sequim) will sponsor bills in the 2013 Legislative Session to eliminate chlorinated Tris from home furniture and children’s products and ensure the use of safer alternatives. The legislation, called the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act, is one of three priorities of Washington state’s Environmental Priorities Coalition.

“Your living room is supposed to be a safe place for your family, but it’s likely being contaminated by dangerous chemicals hidden in furniture and children’s toys. By passing the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act we can keep the chemical industry from dodging the rules by swapping one hazardous chemical for another. We can get off the toxic treadmill and enjoy some peace of mind,” said Sen. Nelson.

“We can protect kids from toxic chemicals without compromising fire safety,” said Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (D – Sequim), who will sponsor the measure in the House and is a professional firefighter in Clallam County. “Washington’s firefighters strongly supported a similar bill last year because chlorinated Tris actually increases the toxicity of a fire, putting both the public and our first responders at greater risk.”

Rachel Koller, a Seattle mother, had two couches tested in the study. One of her couches was found to contain a flame retardant mixture called Firemaster 550 and the other contained a newly characterized flame retardant mix. “These toxic flame retardants are inescapable. I’m concerned about the chemicals in my couches, and frustrated that we don’t even have the option to go out and buy a safer couch,” said Koller.

Toxic flame retardants have come under increasing scrutiny from scientists and policymakers, including in Washington state. The Washington State Department of Ecology recently agreed to add chlorinated Tris to the state’s list of Chemicals of Concern for Children.  Last year, the Washington State House of Representatives passed a bill to ban the chemical in children’s products. However, the bill failed to pass in the Senate.

“Couches that contain flame retardants are a major source of toxic chemicals in our homes, and it’s urgent that we act to address this problem,” said Schreder.  “The Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act will help give families confidence that the products they are buying don’t contain chemicals that are harmful to their health.”

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