Blog > Opinion , Your Health

Is your couch toxic?

Posted on November 28, 2012

CouchBy Lindsay Dahl, Deputy Director

For most people, the only dangerous thing about your couch is the risk of spending money on a nice piece of furniture, only to have your cat shred it to pieces. But today a startling new peer reviewed study came out in Environmental Science and Technology, showing that couches across America contain high levels of toxic chemicals. Great coverage of the study can be read on the front page of the Chicago Tribune.

The study found that 85% of couches tested contained toxic or untested flame-retardants. And the newer the couch, the more likely they were to contain toxic chemicals. The use of flame-retardants has increased over the years and now over 94% of new couches contain one or more of these toxic chemicals.

Here are some key findings:

  • 85% of couches tested contained toxic or untested flame retardant chemicals.
  • The flame-retardants are used heavily in the foam, in some cases they made up 11% of the weight of the foam.
  • The toxic chemicals used in couches do not stay in the couches – they migrate out into your household dust.
  • Toddlers and children are at higher risk for exposure to toxic flame-retardants since they play on the floor, creating small dust circles around them. Recent studies have also confirmed that people of color have higher rates of flame retardants in their bodies than their white counterparts.
  • 41% of the couches contained cancer-causing “chlorinated tris,” also known as TDCPP, removed from baby pajamas in 1977.
  • Some of the chemicals found are linked to cancer, harming the developing brain, hormone disruption and more.

The study comes off the heels of a long and well-done investigative series by the Chicago Tribune on the chemical industry (the flame retardant industry specifically) and their cynical attempts to keep these toxic chemicals on the market, and in our homes.

So where can you buy a couch with out toxic flame-retardants?

It’s a natural first question when faced with information such as this, but we need better laws, not better shopping lists. And therein lies the solution to help get us out of this mess.

The reason toxic chemicals are ending up in our couches, homes and children, is that the U.S. weak laws on toxic chemicals. Our federal laws are failing to protect consumers and communities from the harmful and routine exposure to toxic chemicals that are linked to cancer and harming the developing brain.

A common sense solution is for Congress to pass the Safe Chemicals Act, a bill introduced by the public health hero, Senator Frank Lautenberg. His bill, would increase the safety of chemicals used in our everyday products, protect vulnerable populations like the developing fetus, pregnant women and “hot spot” communities.

Senator Lautenberg took on Big Tobacco and successfully banned smoking on airplanes, if there is one champion to get the Safe Chemicals Act passed, it is him. Please join us today in this quest to put limits on toxic chemicals in our homes, we need your help!

What you can do:

Reduce Exposure to Dust

Since dust is the primary route of exposure for these chemicals. Dusting frequently with a microfiber cloth (no need to use dusting sprays!), a wet mop and frequently vacuuming with a HEPA filter will go a long way to reduce your exposure. Studies have also shown that frequently washing your hands with soap and water will also decrease exposure.

Contact the Manufacturers of Products in Question

If you have a product in question, call the manufacturer and ask if they use any flame retardant chemicals. If they are using toxic flame-retardants, ask them to stop using them immediately. Also consider using social media to ask companies to stop using flame retardants, this can help shed light on both good and bad companies.


Follow Lindsay on Twitter: @Lindsay_SCHF, @SaferChemicals


Thanks for the comments everyone! Besty, I appreciate your comment and yes Congress moves very slowly! I hesitate from recommending or endorsing specific companies, I would hate to recommend a company only to find out they are using another harmful chemical. Under our existing law product manufacturers are disadvantaged just as consumers are, we're both left in the dark about the health effects of most chemicals. We do applaud the many companies in our coalition who are doing their best to make safe products!

Posted by: Lindsay - Safer Chemicals | Feb 3, 2013 6:24:21 AM

nice post. I will make certain to bookmark your blog and may come back very soon. I want to encourage yourself to continue your great work, have a nice holiday weekend!

Posted by: King bed dimensions | Jan 30, 2013 4:46:08 AM

While I agree with the author that laws need to be changed, if we wait for the glacial pace of the government we'll all be dead. As with organic foods, this issue needs to be forced by the consumer market. Demand will drive the manufacturers to make what the public wants. So I think it was shortsighted not to include and applaud the companies that are voluntarily making non-toxic products.

Posted by: Betsy | Dec 11, 2012 5:56:52 AM

It's time to clean this world up. These disgusting chemicals are making us cancerous, dumb, and fat.

Posted by: Ron McGill | Dec 2, 2012 9:28:14 AM

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