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Healthy Children Project
by Maureen Swanson, HCP Director

In the coming year, consumers can expect to find safer, healthier furniture that will be widely available. In January, Ashley Furniture, the country’s largest furniture manufacturer and retailer, announced that they are working toward eliminating toxic flame retardant chemicals from their furniture. 

Ashley Furniture’s decision to remove flame retardant chemicals, which are neurotoxic and carcinogenic, from their products came in part as a result of discussions throughout 2014 with the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families coalition (SCHF), of which LDA is a leading member. The company has not released a timeframe for eliminating these harmful chemicals, so LDA is joining SCHF partner organizations in calling for them to do so quickly. 

The company markets furniture nationally and worldwide under the names Ashley and Millennium. Unfortunately, for now, people will still need to ask at furniture stores whether a particular piece contains flame retardants. 

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. 

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.  These chemicals migrate into household dust, and are found in our homes, bodies, breast milk, food and waterways. 

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 summer and fall 2014, major health care systems began switching away from buying and using furniture containing flame retardant chemicals. Last June, health system Kaiser Permanente announced that they would only purchase furniture free of flame retardants. Four months later, four other health care systems followed suit. 

While leading companies like Ashley Furniture are choosing to phase out the use of these chemicals, they are still not banned. 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 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 will move forward in the new Congress. 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.”

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