According to NPR’s article on Flame Retardants, 85% of couches tested in a recent Americal Chemical Society study contained at least one flame retardant chemical in the foam cushioning. Why is this such a concern one may ask? Prior to 2005, sofas likely contained chemicals called penta-BDEs which were phased out because of toxicity concerns. Manufacturers then began using Tris (TDCPP) as a flame retardant. Tris was banned in children’s sleepwear in the 1970s because it caused cancer in lab animals and this chemical was found in half of the sofas tested in the study.
Another study conducted by the Americal Chemical Society in late 2012 found fire retardants in household dust. In 75% of the homes tested, the dust contained Tris. Many homes also had related chemicals (TCEP and TDCIPP) listed as carcinogens by the state of California.
Current California law (Technical Bulletin 117) was established in 1975 and requires the interior of upholstered furniture to be able to withstand a direct flame for at least 12 seconds before catching on fire. This law resulted in the furniture industry’s use of flame retardant chemicals to treat upholstery. The problem is not contained to just California – many manufacturers follow California’s guidelines nationwide as it is not cost effective to produce furniture exclusively for the state.
The good news is that in February of 2013, California proposed an update to their flammability standard which would require smolder tests for fabrics, rather than open flame tests for foam, which should all but eliminate the need for flame retardants. In November 2013, a new standard was adopted that now requires upholstery fabric to resist a smoldering cigarette. This new standard will begin to phase in on January 1, 2014 and require manufacturer compliance by January 1, 2015. Note that the updated rule does not ban the use of flame retardant chemicals (the rule no longer requires foam to be flame retardant) but manufacturers have said they expect to stop adding them to furniture foam.
Until furniture manufacturers remove these chemicals, our children are exposed to these toxic chemicals in our upholstered furniture on a daily basis. Although it is much more prevalant to find organic crib mattresses, pillows and changing pads, it is not easy to find furniture manufacturers who produce rocking chairs and sofas which are flame retardant-free. The options for non-toxic furniture manufacturers are listed below for reference. The prices are higher but in many cases, are not as steep as I had originally thought. I am looking forward to 2015 when we can hopefully list only those manufacturers that are still using flame retardant chemicals and it becomes the norm to no longer find these dangerous chemicals in our upholstered furniture!
Nursery Rocking Chairs/Gliders
Monte Design Group
Monte Design Group‘s furniture is handmade in Canada. Their rockers and gliders are made from FSC-certified hardwood and PBDE-free soybean-based foam. As they are Canadian and do not have the flame retardant regulations outlined above, you will need to request the non-flame retardant foam that they sell in Canada if you are USA based and not residing in California. If you reside in California, Monte Design is using a flame retardant called HF-5 to meet the Technical Bulletin 117 requirements. This foam is halogen free and free of mercury, lead and other heavy metals. It is also free of CFC, PBDE and TDCPP (Tris).
Sofas and Chairs
Viesso furniture is made in the USA and if you purchase an upholstered piece with their “Extreme Green” option, it will be manufactured without flame retardants and harmful chemicals. Per their website, all upholstered Viesso products including beds, sofas, and benches are made with natural elements like jute webbing and a cotton seat deck, instead of the usual synthetic counterparts. You can also choose how green your want your sofa, specifying at every step what kind of frame, filling, glue and stains you want used.
100% Natural latex foam, no fillers
Organic cotton batting
Locally sourced organic wool as fire retardant
GreenGuard® certified water-based adhesives
Organic cotton/hemp muslin
The downside is that their prices are not posted online. You will need to contact EcoBalanza for a price quote which will depend on your choice of fabric.
Room & Board, Crate & Barrel and West Elm
Update as of March 2015: The good news is that Room & Board,Crate & Barrel and West Elm are now offering furniture that is chemical flame retardant free! Throughout this year, it would be prudent to call customer service when placing your order to ensure that you are receiving a furniture piece that has been made since January 2015 (FR free) as older stock may still be in the warehouse. All custom orders will be FR free as these are made when ordered.