You May Want to Think Twice Before Getting on the Couch

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Your couch may be comforting, but it could also be dangerous.No matter how healthy and active you are, you invariably spend some time on the couch. We all do. It’s a refuge where we can sit and chat, watch TV, enjoy a nice cup of tea, and just unwind. But, a recent study at Duke University in North Carolina has uncovered some disturbing findings about our couches that may make you want to think twice before spending a lot of time on one.

The Duke research team examined the rising use of flame retardants inside couches. This study marks the first time researchers have tried to detect and identify the flame retardants applied to the foam inside couches, found in literally millions of family rooms across the North America.

Many U.S. manufacturers adhere to California’s flammability standard and use flame retardants in residential furniture. The standard, set back in 1975, is now being modified to increase fire safety without flame retardants. But, since there are so many older couches still around, they may adhere to older standards. Those older standards were meant to save lives by protecting against home fires.

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While that may sound beneficial, research shows that flame retardants can leave the foam inside the couch and transfer to household dust, pets, and even people. More research has linked flame retardants to adverse health effects due to the fact that many common retardants contain noxious chemicals that can build up in human bodies. Any number of damaging health effects may be possible, from developmental issues in children to disrupted thyroid function.

The Duke study gathered information about several different types of flame retardants used in couches. They analyzed 102 foam samples from residential couches and found that 85% of manufacturers are currently using flame retardants. If you bought a couch in the past seven years, there is a 93% likelihood that it contains retardants.

More than half of the couches contained untested retardants or those that have raised health concerns. The study highlighted one called “Tris,” which is considered a probable human carcinogen. While it was banned for use as a fire retardant in pajamas in 1977, it is still used to line couches.

Not all flame retardants are created equal, however. Some are less toxic than others. So, when buying a new couch, be sure to read the label. And, ask if it is made with Tris or any other potentially harmful substance.

Sources for Today’s Articles:
You May Want to Think Twice Before Getting on the Couch
Stapleton, H., et al., “Novel and High Volume Use Flame Retardants in US Couches Reflective of the 2005 PentaBDE Phase Out,” Environmental Science & Technology, published online November 28, 2012.