Fire Retardant Chemicals in Upholstery Foam
As it has been reported in the media lately, there is a great deal of concern about the requirement that upholstery for use in homes contains foam that has been treated with flame retardant chemicals. Some believe that the chemicals present more of a hazard to health than the fires that the chemicals are supposed to prevent.
EcoSelect Furniture is pleased to offer cushions that contain foam that has not been treated with the flame retardant chemicals.
When you place an order with us, just request that “non-flame retardant foam” be used in your items. We will send you an acknowledgement confirming your request and provide documentation that your request has been complied with from our foam supplier with your custom order.
Recently, we were featured on a very popular blog, Laura's Rules, written by a conscientious mother worried about the health hazard of chemicals in furniture .... Here's what she wrote about us:
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"As it turns out, one trick is to find a custom furniture manufacturer who will work with you (or already has purged the chemicals), and then to decide the foam or filler that’s right for you. The trickiest part of the trick is that, if you don’t happen to be, say, Leonardo DiCaprio, you may also have to convince that individual to give you a decent price.
Or the next time you need a new piece of furniture, you could just contact one or both of the two gentlemen below who make greener custom items.
Without further ado, then, I present the options: Tah-da…
Option 1: A Nice Man from North Carolina Does Right By Me
Any attentive readers of the earlier parts of the sofa saga may be cheered to learn that my initial assessment of one Mr. Kenneth Fonville as a truly good guy was not at all off-the-mark.
Mr. Fonville, owner of Eco-Select Furniture, was kind enough to scan and send me his furniture foam’s Certipur label, knowing fully that I would run it by flame retardant toxicity expert and environmental scientist (and fellow North Carolina resident) Heather Stapleton. Stapleton, as anticipated, promptly analyzed its fake-ish assurances of eco-safety with aplomb, revealing that the label, in truth, said nothing at all reassuring on the topic of flame retardants.
I cheekily shared her analysis with Mr. Fonville, who checked into the issue further with his foam supplier. He reported back that he was able upon request to purchase foam without flame retardants in it, and that his fabrics were similarly untreated.
The offerings from Eco-select Furniture are largely traditional designs, covered in leather, hemp or other materials, with many green features, such as locally harvested sustainable hardwoods in the frames. They do use some soy-based foam in the furniture, rather than latex, for durability reasons. (Note that his blend is 25-30% “soy-based” feedstock and the rest is petroleum-based, which may be significant information for those wanting an ultra-green sofa or chair.) Their prices are also generally aligned with regular, non-“eco” furniture.
Mr. Fonville started his company fairly recently, in 2010, and his background was in traditional furniture companies, having worked more than 30 years in the industry. He began the new venture because he had become disappointed in the poor practices in the industry and the reduced quality of many imports, and he knew he could do better. His most popular furniture designs are these:
Laura actually interviewed Flame Retardants Expert, Heather Stapleton, a Duke University Environmental Chemistry professor.
Below is part of the interview. To read the rest of the interview, visit Laura's Rules Blog:
1) Why did you start researching flame retardants in furniture?
I’ve been researching flame retardants since graduate school. As a graduate student, I was interested in how the chemicals were accumulating in wildlife and how they were metabolized, but then my interests moved more towards understanding human exposure and health effects. This naturally led me into analyzing consumer products to better understand which chemicals were being used as flame retardants in products and to collect information on the levels used in these products.
2) What has your research found about the prevalence of flame retardants? What are they doing in baby strollers?
Some flame retardants are now considered ubiquitous. They are present everywhere, from the dust in our living rooms and bedrooms to the air in the North Pole. They are unfortunately applied to numerous baby products, including strollers, because these products contain polyurethane foam, and some agencies consider these products to be “juvenile furniture.” According to a California state law, juvenile furniture has to meet a flammability standard. And the only way to meet this standard in a product containing foam, is to add these types of chemical flame retardants.
[Note: Just last year, California evidently revised its rule on juvenile furniture to clarify that strollers, nursing pillows and infant carriers are now exempt from the requirement for flame retardants. While common sense prevailed, older items, and even newer items that still may comply with the law, would still have the chemicals in them.]
3) What does the research show is the harm, in brief, of these chemicals? (If you’d like to separate PBDEs, Tris and Firemaster 550, that would be fine of course. Is there any new research on harms of Firemaster, in particular?)
This is a difficult question to ask. We know much more about PBDEs than we do FM 550 or TDCPP (the primary Tris…there are actually many different types of Tris…so use caution in using this term).
TDCPP is a suspected carcinogen and other “Tris” chemicals are known carcinogens (e.g., TCEP).
Some of our research has shown that TDCPP is just as potent a neurotoxicant as the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Chlorpyrifos had its indoor permit withdrawn by the EPA due to concerns about neurotoxicity.
And FireMaster 550 contains chemicals that may also be neurotoxicants and endocrine disruptors…we’re trying to evaluate this now. We just don’t know much at all about FM 550, yet we know that people, are particularly children, are receiving chronic exposure to FM 550 in their homes through contact with indoor dust particles (the same pathway as PBDEs).
4) What should consumers do to minimize exposure to these chemicals?
Support legislative efforts to prohibit use of these chemicals in products, particularly baby products. There is actually no proof at all that these chemicals reduce the fire hazards of furniture (NONE- zippo!). There is a lot of mis-information spread by the chemical industry on this point. Most people assume that these chemicals prevent products from catching on fire, but they do not.
They are suppose to slow down the rate at which the product burns, but some tests shows that this only slows down the rate by maybe 2-3 seconds. In addition, by having flame retardants in the foam, you generate more smoke, soot and carbon monoxide when they burn, which is a concern because many people die of smoke inhalation during a fire. So one might actually argue that the presence of these chemicals in foam containing furniture increases fire hazards!
But to reduce exposure, the only suggestion we can offer is to avoid buying products that contain foam (and are more likely to contain flame retardants), and wash your hands often. Our recent studies demonstrate that people are more likely to have higher exposure and body burdens if they wash their hands less frequently. Washing hands is always a good practice for all health concerns!
5) What do you do in your home to minimize exposure?
It’s very hard to minimize exposure. The furniture in my house is manufactured in Italy by a manufacturer who does not make furniture to meet the California flammability standard. While it’s great, it’s also much more expensive that most furniture solid in the US. And for most of our baby products I was able to find flame retardant free products by searching for products that do not contain polyurethane foam. Most products that contain polyester filling do not need flame retardant chemicals to meet the California standard.
6) Is it possible to avoid flame retardant chemicals in older furniture? Is there a date before which they may safer?
Flame retardants have been in use in different applications and products for several decades, at least as early as the 1970s, and maybe earlier. No, there is no way to know if older furniture contains flame retardants, but it’s very likely that it will have flame retardants if the furniture contains polyurethane foam AND contains a label indicating that it meets the flammability requirements of CA TB 117.
To read the rest of the interview, visit Laura's Rules Blog