Most California Furniture Contains Toxic Fire Retardants


February 26, 2008

For Immediate Release

For more information contact:
Sara Schedler, 415-544-0790 ext. 17
Nick Berning, 202-222-0748

New Report Suggests Majority of California’s Furniture Contains Toxic Fire Retardant Chemicals

Virtually every American tested found to have retardants in bodies; babies and children found to have highest levels

SAN FRANCISCO—According to a study released today, a high percentage of California furniture contains toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption, and reproductive and neurological dysfunction. These toxins are particularly dangerous to infants and children.

The study, “Killer Couches,” was conducted by environmental group Friends of the Earth. The group tested a sample of 350 pieces of household furniture in stores and domestic residences and found that most of the furniture had high levels of toxic halogenated fire retardants. This analysis suggests that product contamination is widespread in California, exposing the state’s population to a significant and unnecessary risk.

Friends of the Earth is co-sponsoring a bill (AB706-Leno) that will mandate the phase-out of halogenated fire retardants in all residential furniture products, while promoting the use of less toxic, but equally effective, fire retardant methods.

“Virtually all Americans have toxic fire retardants in their bodies, and this study suggests that one of the main causes is furniture in our homes and offices. Fortunately, safer alternatives are already used by some manufacturers. But a little-known regulation in California is penalizing those companies trying to do the right thing. If it passes, AB 706 will fix that problem,” said Russell Long, Ph.D., Vice President of Friends of the Earth.

Studies have shown that most Americans who undergo testing have halogenated fire retardants stored in their bodies, with babies and children showing the highest levels. Infants and children are the most vulnerable to the effects of halogenated fire retardant chemicals, which travel through the placenta and breast milk. Levels of these chemicals in breast milk have increased 40-fold since the 1970’s.

“The ‘Killer Couches’ report confirms that the most toxic, bioaccumulative, cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting fire retardants are being used to meet an outdated California fire safety standard,” said Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco). “Firefighters, burn victims’ advocates, and furniture manufacturers are all supporting AB 706 because they know we can achieve equivalent fire safety without the use of toxic halogenated chemicals.”

Halogenated fire retardants are widely used to meet California’s strict flammability regulation, Technical Bulletin 117 (TB 117). The Polyurethane Association estimates that tens of millions of pounds of halogenated fire retardants have been used to meet TB 117 since the 1970s.

Groundwater, drinking water, ambient air, oceans and ecosystems have been contaminated by these compounds so that halogenated fire retardants are now detected in wildlife throughout the world—as far away as the Arctic Circle. Some of the highest levels have been found in harbor seals and aquatic life in the San Francisco Bay. These compounds have also been found in dairy products, meat, poultry, and fish.

The Killer Couches report can be found at http://www.foe.org/KillerCouches.pdf.

Friends of the Earth is the U.S. voice of an influential, international network of grassroots groups in 70 countries. Since 1969, Friends of the Earth has been at the forefront of high-profile efforts to create a more healthy, just world.

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