More than half of all couches tested in a Duke University-led study contained potentially toxic or untested chemical flame retardants that may pose risks to human health.
Among the chemicals detected was “Tris,” a chlorinated flame retardant that is considered a probable human carcinogen based on animal studies.
“Tris was phased out from use in baby pajamas back in 1977 because of its health risks, but it still showed up in 41 percent of the couch foam samples we tested,” said Heather Stapleton, associate professor of environmental chemistry at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
More manufacturers in recent years are treating their couches’ foam padding with chemical flame retardants to adhere to California Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117), she said. TB 177 requires all residential furniture sold in California to withstand a 12-second exposure to a small open flame without igniting, to help reduce deaths and injuries from accidental home fires. Over the years, the statewide standard essentially has become a de facto national standard, due to the economic importance of the California market.
In many cases, the manufacturer may not know what chemicals have been used. Most manufacturers buy their foam padding from a vendor who, in turn, buys the chemicals used to treat it from another vendor. The identity of the chemical flame retardants often gets lost along the way, or is protected under law as proprietary.
Stapleton and her colleagues analyzed 102 polyurethane foam samples from couches purchased for home use in the United States between 1985 and 2010. They published their findings in a peer-reviewed study released Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Science Brief thanks to EurekAlert.
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Potentially toxic flame retardants found in many US couches
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