Are there Toxic Flame Retardants in your Home?

Flame retardants are compounds added to commercial and consumer products that inhibit, suppress, or delay the production of flames to prevent the spread of fire. There are several categories of retardants, but two types, organohalogens and organophosphorous, are toxic. They are often associated with serious health and environmental concerns including disruption of hormones, developmental and reproductive problems; they do not readily break down into safer chemicals and accumulate in body tissue (bioaccumulate). Major uses of flame retardant chemicals are in electronics, building insulation, polyurethane foam and wire/cable.

Due to flammability standards, furniture made with fabrics and foams (including carpeting) often contain flame retardants. For example, the foam of 101 American couches bought between 1984-2010 were tested; 85% of the couches contained toxic or inadequately tested flame retardant chemicals.

Duke University (Durham, NC) is conducting a study to determine the prevalence and type of flame retardants used in furniture and help you find out what chemicals may be present in the furniture in your home. Foam samples from your home will be analyzed and you will be sent the results. For more information, click here.

Information about flame retardants and reducing  your exposure to them in your home have been published by both Duke University and the Green Science Policy Institute at the University of California – Berkeley (fact sheet).