Toxic Flame Retardants in My Furniture!

07/06/2007 10:22 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Next Monday AB 706, a precedent-setting bill which bans two classes of toxic fire retardants used in our furniture is scheduled to be heard in the California Senate Business and Professions Committee. Advocates for the bill fear it could be killed because the sale of these chemicals to is hugely profitable to the companies that manufacture them. Profitable equals good for business equals good for California by some legislators reasoning.

What about the mothers in California that have ten to one hundred times the concentration of toxic fire retardants in their breast milk compared to mothers in Europe and Asia? (Over 5000 MomsRising members have contacted their Assembly members to ask that our state passes AB 706.) What about fetuses who absorb these chemicals across the placenta before they are born? What about our small children that ingest these chemicals from the dust given off by couches and chairs in their homes? What about fire fighters that are exposed to the dioxins and other potent carcinogens that these flame retardant transform into when they do burn? Toxic flame-retardants are currently in nearly every home in California due to legislation that dates back into the 1980s and there is still no good evidence that lives have been saved from fire.

Have we lost our collective minds?

The chemical industry assures our legislators that these brominated and chlorinated fire retardants chemicals are safe and good for us. Yet many dozens of scientific studies find that exposure to these chemicals cause mutations and numerous health problems in experimental animals. They interfere with the brain development of young mice leading to permanent neurological damage in the adults. Autism and ADD have become epidemic in humans; researchers are looking at a possible connection with exposure to fire retardants.

Another set of studies reveal that these chemicals we are producing in such vast quantities can contribute to infertility. Marine mammals that have very high concentrations of these flame-retardants in their bodies are having few young. Twenty years ago vets began to see large numbers of cats coming in with thyroid problems, a new condition in cats and thought to be caused by a new environmental toxin. The structure of some commonly used fire retardants are similar to the thyroid hormone. The first paper showing a connection between fire retardant chemicals and hyperthyroid disease in cats has just been published and others are in progress.

What does it take for us to exercise some caution about bringing chemicals into our homes that persist in our environment and our bodies for decades to come?

These fire retardants do indeed cause foam to withstand the application of a direct flame for 12 seconds longer than foam without it, but there is no requirement that the fabric covering the foam be fire resistant. Once the fabric is burning the foam will burn too with or without the fire retardant chemicals.

Smoldering cigarettes cause most fires and now that self-extinguishing cigarettes are required in California furniture fires are going to be greatly reduced. Do we really need these chemicals in our homes, our bodies, and of greatest concern, the bodies of our children?

Give me a choice! I am angry that in California I can't even buy furniture that doesn't contain these toxic chemicals. Mark Leno's AB 706 is an important bill currently in our legislature to get these toxic chemicals out of my furniture. I want it passed now! Then I'm going to wait a year and go out and buy some new furniture without toxic chemicals. Now that is good for business.