Thanks to California law TB 117 from 1975, your comfy recliner better resembles a chemical waste facility than it does a relaxing chair. What do I mean? Well, TB 117 requires the foam in sofas, love seats, recliners, car seats, electronics, and insulation be treated with ultra toxic flame retardants. Although they may prevent your wares from immediately going up in a blaze, they are not without serious consequence to your health.
The Dangers of Flame Retardants
Flame retardants – globally recognized as toxic contaminants – have been associated with reproductive disorders, cancer, immune dysfunction, hormone disruption, suppressed thyroid function, and serious damage to fetal and child brain development. Here are 10 facts you need to know to protect you and your loved ones from these dangerous, pervasive toxins.
1. Your Dust Bunnies Are Toxic
According to Duke University associate professor of environmental chemistry Heather Stapleton, “If you really look at what’s in your dust, particularly for some chemicals, it’s just as concentrated – or more – as what you’d find in sewage sludge.”  What she and many other researchers discovered is flame retardants like PBDEs and chlorinated tris escape from the foam and accumulate in dust. Dust bunnies, by their nature, collect greater amounts of these chemicals. The more that around, the greater your exposure. Pets and little ones crawling on the floor may be most susceptible.
2. The 2006 Ban on PBDEs Did Not Make Furniture Safe
Although PBDEs were supposedly banned in 2006, the chemical used to replace them is equally as dangerous. Chemical manufacturers reverted to using chlorinated tris (or TDCPP), a chemical banned from use in children’s pajamas in 1977 because it causes DNA mutations and cancer. Even the newer chemical known as V6 contains tris. Research shows chlorinated tris is more toxic than the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a known neurotoxin.  Tris remains as dangerous today as in 1977.
3. Baby Products Are Loaded with Flame Retardants
You know why you've never heard of a "foam tree"? It's because foam, despite being soft, is not natural, it's the product of mixing chemicals together. Subsequently, it comes as no surprise that car seats, changing pads, and other foam baby products are loaded with chemicals, including flame retardants.  Tris and a new chemical known as V6 (which contains tris) make up about 4.6% of the mass of the foam in baby products.  All the same health dangers apply which is why the best way to protect your little ones is to use and expose them to as few foam products as possible.
4. Children Are Most Vulnerable
Tests have shown that children typically have three times as much fire retardants in their blood as their mothers. The reason for this is believed to be the fact that children play on the floor where dust and carpeting collect fire retardants as the previously mentioned dust bunnies. This may explain the ever-increasing number of children suffering from hormonal and metabolic imbalances.
5. Flame Retardants Affect Unborn Babies
Pregnant women need to be especially aware of exposure to flame retardants. Research has shown that PBDEs have no concerns crossing the placenta and can transfer harmful effects from mother to fetus. PBDEs have been found in the fetal blood of women exposed to products that have been treated with flame retardants.  Observations of children with higher levels of PBDEs in their blood revealed greater incidences of hyperactivity and decreased learning and memory.
6. Flame Retardants Cause Male Infertility
Regular exposure to organophosphate flame retardants alter a man’s hormone levels, leading to poor semen quality and decreased sperm count. 
7. Flame Retardants Are Concentrated On Airplanes
Airplane seats may, at times, seem rock hard but they're loaded with foam. The foam used, not just in the seats, but everywhere in the airplane contains high levels of fire retardants and 100% of dust samples collected from airplanes contained most flame retardants, including TDCPP, or tris. Concentrations of another flame retardant, BDE 209, have been found to be several times higher in airplanes than in residential or office settings. 
8. Californians Have the Highest PBDE Levels in the USA!
Californians have the highest levels of PBDEs, tris, V6, and other flame retardants in their blood. Studies comparing PBDE levels in residents of California to those throughout the rest of the US found Californians had twice as much circulating in their blood.  Another study noted children living in California have significantly higher levels of PBDEs than other children living in Mexico. 
9. Chemical Manufacturers Don’t Care About Your Health
California law TB117 was changed at the end of 2013 to make flame retardants in furniture and other foam items optional. Despite the science showing the extreme danger posed to human health by flame retardants, chemical companies continue to lobby politicians to keep these chemicals in our furniture. And, if persuasion doesn’t work, they’ll sue to keep you inhaling this stuff. Chemtura, a global agro-chemical company, recently sued the State of California to block regulations which would allow for the manufacture of furniture without their chemicals.  Fortunately, in that instance, the judge threw the case out of court. 
10. Blood Levels of Flame Retardants Continue to Increase
Despite chemical bans and efforts to reduce exposure to these toxic chemicals, their presence continues to rise. Flame retardants are known to disrupt hormone activity in children, especially girls who may experience reproductive health concerns and severe hormonal imbalances.  We may never know the full impact of these chemicals, but we do know for certain we need to at least reduce our exposure.
9 Steps You Can Take to Protect Yourself and Your Family
It’s obvious we need to protect ourselves from the damaging effects of these toxic chemicals. Here are a few steps you can take to reduce your exposure and, hopefully, limit the damage:
- Don’t buy furniture that carries a TB 117 label.
- Vacuum carpets and furniture using a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
- Damp dust furniture and floors regularly.
- Don’t eat on, around, or near your coach. Also, use wooden chairs without padding in your dining areas.
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after cleaning.
- Buy naturally flame-resistant materials such as wool and cotton.
- Ask your sales rep or the manufacturer about the presence of flame retardants in their products before you buy.
- Regularly vacuum your car’s interior.
- Let your all service and salesmen know you don’t want flame retardants in your furniture, clothes, or any product entering your home.
One Final Thought
It is almost impossible to avoid exposure to flame retardants these days. Reducing exposure by taking the steps above, consuming foods high in antioxidants, ensuring adequate iodine intake for hormone balance (many PBDEs lower the body’s iodine levels), and regularly cleansing your body can help.
- Mary-Russell Roberson. "Greater Exposure to Flame Retardants Might Be Associated with Thyroid Cancer." Nicholas School of the Environment. June 11, 2017.
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- Environmental Working Group. Chemical Company Sues California Over Flame Retardants. EWG.
- Michael Hawthorne. Judge tosses challenge to flame retardant rules. Chicago Tribune.
- Windham GC1, Pinney SM, Sjodin A, Lum R, Jones RS, Needham LL, Biro FM, Hiatt RA, Kushi LH. Body burdens of brominated flame retardants and other persistent organo-halogenated compounds and their descriptors in US girls. Environ Res. 2010 Apr;110(3):251-7. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2010.01.004.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.