Home Environmental Toxic Flame Retardants Still in Many U.S. Couches

Toxic Flame Retardants Still in Many U.S. Couches

Toxic Flame Retardants Still in Many U.S. Couches


According to a recent study led by Duke University, many couches in the United States still contain carcinogenic materials.  One of the most common carcinogenic materials still found in couch foam is a chlorinated flame retardant called “Tris.”

Heath Stapleton, an associate professor of environmental chemistry for Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, states: “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.” 

The flame retardant chemicals started to appear in couches during the late 1970s according to the American Home Furnishing Alliance.  More and more manufacturers began to implement chemicals in the couches’ foam in order to meet standards under the California Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117).  The Bulletin required all residential furniture in California to keep from igniting during a 12-second exposure to an open flame, such as a lit cigarette. 

TB 117 has become the national standard over the years. 

During the study, researchers analyzed a total of 102 foam samples in couches that were purchased in the United States from 1985 to 2010.  It was found that 17 percent of the sample contained a flame-retardant called pentaBDE.  The substance is banned in 172 countries and 12 U.S. states, and the chemical was removed by all U.S. manufacturers in 2005. 

New flame retardants have been used in manufacturing in recent years, but there is very little or no health data on these retardants.  The chemicals have made it extremely difficult for researchers to identify the risks of certain consumer products. 

Stapleton stated: “Overall, we detected flame-retardant chemicals in 85 percent of the couches we tested and in 94 percent of those purchased after 2005.  More than half of all samples, regardless of the age of the couch, contained flame retardants that are potentially toxic or have undergone little or no independent testing for human health risks.” 

PentaBDE is shown to disrupt thyroid regulation, brain development, and the endocrine system as well.  The chemical has also been associated with lowered IQ levels and behavioral development in children. 

New industry standards and laws need to address the flame retardants used in couches because serious adverse health effects.  Laws need to address how industries label chemicals used in their manufacturing. 

Stapleton noted: “If a couch has a California TB 117 label, you can all but guarantee it contains chemical flame retardants.  But this is where labeling requirements get confusing:  the lack of a TB 117 label on a couch does not guarantee the absence of chemical flame retardants.  It’s not that cut-and-dried.”

Source: Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment