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Healthy Children Project
by Maureen Swanson, HCP Director

Most people don’t realize that when they stretch out to take a nap on the couch, they’re resting on cushions filled with neurotoxic and carcinogenic chemicals. These chemicals migrate into household dust, and are found in our homes, bodies, breast milk, food and waterways.

The chemicals are flame retardants, meant to reduce fire risk. A study by Duke University showed that 85% of couches in American homes contain toxic or untested flame retardants.  The chemicals are also abundantly used in electronics – televisions, computers, phones, laptops, etc., and in crib pads, carpet pads and building materials.

Three separate studies of hundreds of pregnant women and children in California, New York and Ohio have resulted in the same findings: children more highly exposed to flame retardant chemicals in the womb have lower IQs, cognitive delays and attention problems. The chemicals are also linked to cancers, with firefighters particularly at risk, since they are highly exposed on the job.

In 2013 an investigation by the Chicago Tribune showed that the flame retardant chemicals fail to prevent fires.  In response to the Tribune series and action by state lawmakers, California changed its furniture standard to allow manufacturers to meet the new safety standard without using chemical flame retardants.

The new standard will make a difference for everyone, especially if most furniture makers stop using the chemicals. Health care systems are weighing in to influence demand for safer, non-toxic furniture. In June, health system Kaiser Permanente announced that moving forward they will purchase furniture that does not contain flame retardants. In September, four other major health care systems followed suit.

But changing the furniture safety standard and purchasing policies still allows manufacturers to choose to use these notoriously harmful chemicals. LDA and partner organizations in the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families coalition have strongly advocated for changes in federal and state policy to test and ban toxic flame retardant chemicals. Last spring, LDA joined Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania firefighters to hold a press conference calling for a ban on these chemicals. 

In mid-September, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced a bill to ban 10 types of toxic flame retardants from children’s products and furniture. LDA joined other health and environmental organizations in endorsing the bill.

 It remains to be seen whether the bill moves forward in this Congress or the next one. LDA will continue to be at the forefront of health and disabilities organizations calling for a ban on flame retardants found to be harmful to children’s health and development, and for testing of new flame retardants touted as “safer substitutes.”

To learn more about how flame retardants impact human health, and the chemical makers’ campaign to conceal and distort the truth about these chemicals, join us at the national conference in Chicago in February.

On Wednesday, February 18, in the evening, LDA will screen the movie “Toxic Hot Seat” which follows a group of firefighters, health advocates, policymakers and journalists who catalyzed state and federal action on use of flame retardants. LDA has invited the Pulitzer-Prize winning Chicago Tribune journalists who appear in the film to make introductory remarks.

For more information and to register, please see the conference program at the website


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