Toxins in Furniture - CouchOur living room is normally the place where we spend most of our waking time when we are at home. The couch is the focal piece of each living room and the backdrop of everyday events. However, you may be exposing your family to harmful chemicals and off-gassing  when you are lounging on the couch, watching T.V., reading a book or just hanging around.

Formaldehyde in Wood

Modern furniture is made mostly of plywood. Plywood is an ideal material for making a couch because it is easy to install, easy to transport, and it is cheap. Unfortunately, most plywood is treated with formaldehyde, which is harmful to our health. Formaldehyde can cause irritation to the nose, eyes and throat. Formaldehyde is a carcinogenic and prolonged exposure may result in serious health issues such as allergic reactions, skin changes, serious respiratory problems, brain tumors, leukemia and lung cancer.

Ethylene Oxide in Foam

The foam is also a problem because polyurethane foams contain ethylene oxide.   Exposure to ethylene oxide can lead to acute symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, bronchitis, and neurological disorders.   However, exposure can lead to more serious illnesses such as leukemia, cancer, and chronic irritation of the eyes, mucous membrane disorders, chronic skin disorders, impair mental development of children, and have a negative affect on the nervous system.

Flame Retardants in Foam

Another toxin that lurks in your furniture is fire retardants.  Furniture sold in the United States has to meet standards related to fire protection, which means that your couch has probably been treated with fire retardants.

PolyCholorinated Biphenyl (PCB) was banned in 1979 because it was deemed an endocrine disruptor and neurotoxin.  One of PCB’s applications was a fire retardant.  Until this day, PCB is still present in every tested human body, wildlife and the environment.    Monsanto was the only North American producer of the toxic carcinogen PCB.  Today we have many chemical companies that produce flame retardants.

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE) and Tris (1,3-dichloroisopropyl) phosphate (TDCPP) are other fire retardants that were widely used in the 1970s. PBDE and TDCPP were banned from children’s pajamas in 1977 because they were deemed mutagens and were associated with damage to kidneys, liver, brain and cancer in children.

By the year 2005, PBDE was banned from furniture and household items because it was harmful to human health; having serious health consequences, affecting thyroid hormones, influencing hormone levels, having a negative effect on fertility and semen quality in men.  If you couch was manufactured before this date, then it is still releasing PBDE from the foam in the form of dust.

It is amazing that it took almost 30 years from when it was banned from children’s pajamas until it was banned as an additive in the foam as a flame retardants.

TDCPP is still being used as a flame retardant along with other PBDE replacements containing chlorine or bromine with unknown consequences. Individual states are passing legislation to ban TDCPP in children’s products and furniture.  Furniture that contains chlorinated will continually be released from the foam in the form of dust and land on the floor, furniture and toys, and end up in our respiratory system and digestive tract.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted a test of breast milk of Mother’s in American and discovered that PBDE was 75 times higher than European Mother’s breast milk.  The EWG also conducted a test on different families, and the PBDE levels were significantly higher in 1 1/2- to 4-year-old children than in their mothers. The theory behind the increased level is because children are on the ground more than adults and are being exposed to the chemicals in the dust from furniture foam and carpet padding. In addition, toys were tested, and the dust on them contained all of these chemicals, and because children always touch things and put their hands in their mouth, they are ingesting these chemicals. This EWG’s test also detected 11 different flame retardants in these children, and in the majority of cases the chemicals were present at higher levels in the children than their mothers. Cell phones and remote controls also have flame retardants in them.  Just like every other child, my son was always putting one of these items in his mouth.

I can understand the importance of fire prevention. The foam and fabric in most furniture will ignite very quickly without these chemicals.  California has been at the forefront of banning these types of toxic chemicals from products.  California has tried to ban BPA from all products and overturned a flame retardant regulation, which now allows manufacturers to develop products without chemical flame retardants.    California also stated that since most baby items are not the cause of fires, that crib mattresses, playpen mattresses, car seats and other baby products do not need harsh flame retardants.  California is constantly being sued by chemical companies because of their stand against these chemicals.

A couple of years ago, I bought my son an organic mattress for his first  mattress.   Even though, I try to limit my family’s toxin exposure,  I realize I cannot do it 100%.  I am sure our furniture has flame retardants in them.   When it is time to purchase new furniture, I will make better decisions.  For now, I do the best I can do.  Even if you are very cautious, you cannot avoid all chemicals and carcinogens that you and your children are exposed to on a daily basis.  I have been giving my son (who is now 4) bentonite clay baths for a few years, and I put a teaspoon of bentonite clay in his milk.  Bentonite clay is one method of eliminating toxins from the body.

What is off-gassing?

Off-gassing is the overwhelming smell of something new that you recently purchased.  For instance, have you ever bought a bathmat, plastic storage bins, a new car or a new couch and when you enter the area of these items you can smell them?  They are off-gassing; this happens because of the toxic chemicals used during the manufacturing of the item.  We normally don’t purchase a couch based on the fact that it does not smell, we usually select furniture based on how comfortable it is, how it looks and the price.  However,  we might need to choose by smell.  I am not sure what the salesperson would think if you started sniffing  each piece of furniture.

The question still arises, can you eliminate the chemical danger that lurks in your couch without giving up comfort and safety? Unfortunately, it is very hard to find furniture that has not been treated with toxic chemical.    Here are a few companies that make Chlorinated Tris Free, non-toxic furniture, which can be very expensive., and

Here are some tips if you cannot find or afford furniture that has not been treated with these harsh chemicals.

1.    Look for solid wood furniture. It will cost more money, but you will have less exposure to the formaldehyde from the plywood. In addition, your furniture will look better and longer lasting.

2.    Do not buy furniture that stinks. Formaldehyde has a distinctive smell that is difficult to eliminate. If some furniture has an intense smell, especially variants of leather furniture, skip them.

3.    Vacuum the house and furniture with an HEPA filter vacuum cleaner, which will clean the dust and prevent it from spreading further through the air.

4.  Dust, Dust and Dust. When you are dusting, you should use methods to not make the dust airborne again.  Using wet or microfiber clothes will reduce the dust being disturbed and causing it to be scattered into the air,

5.  Fix any rips in all fabric.   If your couch, baby’s car seat, or any item that contains foam has a tear in the fabric… fix it immediately!

Finally, the best way to reduce your exposure to furniture toxins and make your life healthier; is to avoid your couch and spend more time outside exercising or just enjoying your family and the great outdoors.

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