In the month of June, Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation's largest not-for-profit health care systems, announced that they will stop using upholstered furniture treated with toxic flame retardants chemicals in their hospitals, medical offices and other buildings. Kaiser Permanente has set an example for everyone, they want manufacturers to switch to more sustainable and environmentally friendly products and this will not happen unless we, the consumers, demand a change.
What are Flame retardants?
Flame retardants are compounds added to manufactured materials, such as plastics and textiles, and surface finishes and coatings that inhibit, suppress, or delay the production of flames to prevent the spread of fire.
Today, flame retardants are used predominantly in four major areas:
- Building insulation
- Polyurethane foam
- Wire and cable
The two types of flame retardants that cause concerns are; halogenated flame retardants containing chlorine or bromide bonded to carbon and organophosphorous flame retardants containing phosphorous bonded to carbon.
Why are Flame retardants a big deal?
The chemicals don't break down and generally have long term effects rather than immediate effects and can build up in humans and animals. They are not bound to the foam and can settle into the dust around our homes. Flame retardants have become so pervasive they can now be found in meats, fish, and dairy products.
Flame retardants have been linked to male infertility, birth defects, cancer, reduced IQ's and other health problems.
Children can carry an average of three times the levels of flame retardants in their bodies than the levels found in their mother. How you ask? Simply put, children spend their time putting their hands, toys, anything they seem fit in their mouths and unintentionally ingest more flame retardant chemicals from the dust.
Do they prevent fire from spreading?
Flame retardants do not increase overall fire safety. Even though they can delay ignition for a few seconds in products, they will eventually burn and produce toxic gases that cause most fire injuries and deaths.
What can we do?
Keep your home dust free. The Natural Resources Defense Council has some helpful tips on what you can do to reduce flame retardants in your home and your body.
- Vacuum carpets with a vacuum that contains a HEPA filter.
- Damp mop floors and damp dust furniture on a regular basis.
- Wash hands frequently, especially before eating. Don't eat on your couch!
- Choose naturally flame resistant fabrics and fill such as wool, cotton or jute.
- Call manufacturers to ask about their use of flame retardants.
- Check the label before you buy upholstered furniture and if you live outside of California, don't buy furniture that carries a TB 117 label.
- Vacuum and wipe down your car's interior regularly.