Smoking, tanning, and poor eating are some of the habits commonly blamed for causing cancer, but what about reclining on the living room couch?
A new study jointly conducted by Duke University and the University of California-Berkeley estimates that more than one-third of all couches in the United States contain toxic fire-retardant chemicals that are “associated with hormone disruption, neurological and reproductive toxicity and/or cancer in hundreds of animal studies and a number of human studies.”
According to researchers, chemically treated foam used in couch cushions can turn into dust and linger, posing serious health risks for anyone who ingests the dust. Small children who may put their mouths on surfaces contaminated with the chemical dust may be especially vulnerable to its toxic effects, the study noted.
The study, published Wednesday in Environmental Science & Technology, found that 85 percent of the couches tested had been treated with chemical flame retardants that are either known toxins or inadequately tested substances with unknown health risks.
Forty-one percent of the 104 couches tested contained chlorinated tris (also known as TDCPP). Seventeen percent contained pentaBDE, a chemical so dangerous it is slated for ban worldwide by the Stockholm Convention.
Responding to the study, the American Home Furnishings Alliance, which includes furniture manufacturers among its members, said that the industry is being pulled in one direction to make more fire-resistant furniture, thereby reducing the number of fires involving flammable furnishings. At the same time, it says the industry is being pressured to make more fire-resistant products that are free of the chemical flame retardants.
“Throughout nearly four decades of debate over how best to reduce the number of residential fires that involve upholstered furniture, AHFA has steadfastly maintained the position that product modifications should be made only as they are proven safe, effective and affordable for the greatest number of consumers,” the group said in a statement. “AHFA has advocated against increasing chemical risks to its customers and its employees as a solution to fires caused by ‘small open flame’ ignition sources.”
Dr. Marcel Casavant, medical director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, told ABC News that “Some of the chemicals in the flame-retardant group are stronger than others and last longer in our bodies.”
“There’s really very limited data on whether these chemicals actually cause trouble to humans,” Dr. Casavant told ABC. They do accumulate in humans. We do absorb them and store them in our tissues, but we don’t know the real effect curve.”